Have you ever tried to stop a sneeze? You can feel it coming and you’re at a party and the last thing you want is to disrupt a lively group conversation with an explosive expulsion of air from your lungs. You fight against your body’s natural impulses and hold that sternutation in so as not to call attention to yourself.
I believe that tiny act of stifling ourselves is a metaphor for all the ways we deny ourselves the right to be who we are, without apology.
It’s how we deny ourselves freedom.
I know, you may think that sounds rather melodramatic; After all, it’s “just a sneeze,” right?
I respectfully disagree.
Freedom is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. What does true freedom look like? What does true freedom feel like? And when we say we’re bored are we disrespecting our freedom?
It all began for me when I realized that starting my own business was making me feel like I had less freedom, not more. I wasn’t working 9 to 5, I was often working 8 to 8, including on the weekends. Where was all the free time I thought I had signed up for? Instead, I found myself chasing freedom, and it was much faster than I.
Of course, it’s a rite of passage for all entrepreneurs: that moment when you realize you’ve become a slave to the very business that was supposed to set you free.
I wasn’t just stifling a sneeze; it felt like I was stifling my whole life. Something had to give, and it was most likely going to be my sanity if I didn’t get a handle on the way I was doing business.
I started by taking a look at my daily schedule. It was all over the place. I would do some of this and then some of that. For example, I might coach a client, then decide to record a podcast, after which I might make some tweaks to my website. I was doing everything and I never seemed to get ahead. Here’s the crazy part: there was a lot of blank space in my calendar. In fact, the only things that were scheduled were time sensitive deadlines and appointments. If you were to look at my calendar you’d think I had a lot of free time.
And that’s when I realized how much I had been sabotaging myself with a very old belief system rooted in the notion that “structure is boring.” I looked at my life and could see how I had always said how much I “hated structure.” Structure was creativity’s enemy, I believed. Besides, I had always been enamored with rebellion and non-conformity.
Rebels are sexy, no?
Challenging Your Belief Systems
I decided to challenge my own mind. I wanted to give structure a try. I wasn’t going to give up on non-conformity, and I still believe rebels are sexy, but structure? I was willing to embrace structure… on my terms, of course. This is what I did: I created what I called my Freedom Calendar. I took out a set of brightly colored highlighters and I started with the color of freedom: yellow. With a 12-month calendar in front of me I colored in all the days I would not work. I vowed to color at least 150 days yellow. Weekends, holidays, vacation time, and plain-old “do nothing” time.
Next, I decided what my health goals were (because my health was going to trump business from now on) and I created a daily plan to take care of my mind and my body. This was my personal time and it went in the calendar, along with date nights with my husband. Yes, this self-professed “Freedom Junkie” was now scheduling date nights firmly in her calendar!
From there I created a color-coded business schedule that left nothing to guess-work. I knew exactly when I would work on my podcast; I knew exactly which days were for income generation and meeting with clients; I knew exactly when I was supposed to work on writing my book.
I had embraced structure without letting go of my rebel nature — I sneeze loud and hard whenever my body needs to.
Challenging our old belief systems can set us free in ways we never thought possible. It starts with a pause, and a willingness to question your own mind. For me, the lie that “structure was boring” had hampered my best intentions. Once I realized that, I could stop chasing freedom and simply succumb to it.
Lin Eleoff is an Internet business lawyer and coach for women building their online businesses. Check out her Freedom Calendar at MyFreedomCalendar.com.