I spent much of my life chasing freedom.
Growing up, I chased the freedom of escaping my family’s roots in San Francisco Chinatown and living a richer life.
I felt so proud when I graduated from MIT and landed my first engineering job at Google — they were my golden tickets out.
And then I thought, If only I earned enough money, I’d be free to live whatever life I wanted.
I spent the next ten years working at different startups — burning myself out twice — trying to win the startup lottery and also publishing a book in the process. All so I could be financially free.
When the startup I worked at got acquired by Salesforce, I thought I had done it.
I was finally free.
But then I felt the weight of the golden handcuffs — it turned out I’d need to stay another four years if I wanted to earn out all the incentives. I felt the self-judgment around my desire to leave early — when I knew that so many others would kill for the opportunity to just rest and vest.
I ending up leaving millions on the table in the hardest financial decision I’d ever made — and yet, it was one that I’ve never regretted.
Starting my own leadership company afterwards — where I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted — felt so freeing. It gave me a freedom of time and of location.
So I started traveling the world — for a while even flying somewhere two weeks out of every month — so that I could feel even more free.
I thought globetrotting would let me feel at home wherever I was. And it did, for a while. The more I traveled though — and by now I've traveled to 45 different countries — the more I realized something.
I’d been searching all my life for freedom — thinking that it was on the other side of some accomplishment or destination.
All those feelings of freedom I found, while they felt amazing, only lasted a little while.
They were ephemeral.
It's only recently that I realized the truth:
True freedom is an “inside job.”
There’s nothing I can do or accomplish or create externally that will create an everlasting sense of “At last, I’m free.”
All of that “doing” only focused my awareness and attention outwards, to avoid and escape a discomfort and non-acceptance of where I was inwards — a sense that where I was wasn't enough or wasn't okay.
True freedom is a state of “being” not “doing."
Anytime our attention is pointed externally and awaiting something in our environment to change — taking the next trip, buying a house, getting a promotion, attracting a romantic relationship, or something else — to create a feeling state of freedom and fulfillment, we're still chasing.
And no amount of chasing will ultimately get us to where we want.
True freedom comes from accepting where we are — and it is something that's available now, without needing our situation to change.
To be clear, that doesn't mean not having desires.
But there's a difference between wanting something to escape our current situation — like what I was doing when I was running away from feelings of being trapped — and wanting something from a place of peace and acceptance.
True freedom comes from a deep acceptance of the inner landscape of our emotions — no matter what feelings the current experience brings.
When we can be with any and all emotion that comes up in life, we're no longer in reaction and taking actions to avoid some internal experience.
When we can be fully present with our internal experience and accept it, we can consciously choose what we want and how we want to respond.
True freedom comes from feeling at home with ourselves and being comfortable in our own skin — accepting all different parts of ourselves.
Freedom and self-love go hand-in-hand. Because until we can love all parts of us that show up as we move through life, we’re still rejecting and pushing away something in our experience.
When we love all parts of ourselves and can welcome any emotional experience that comes our way, there’s nothing we can’t do.
That's where true freedom lies.