Trapped by Freedom

Here’s something to think about: I believe that the unbelievable level of freedom we have in this country actually traps us.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, and I want to dump my thoughts about it onto a digital canvas. So just bear with me here before you start commenting about how we’re not actually free because we can’t go to Cuba or say certain words in a movie theater.

Regardless of what you think – most of us have a metric fuck-ton of freedom. And that’s precisely the problem.

Our freedoms can easily trap us in a net of mediocrity and complacency. These freedoms actually make it harder for us to be truly exceptional. Let’s take a look at what some of our freedoms actually give us…

We are free to work jobs that provide way more than enough money for every basic item we could possibly need. Many of these jobs give us the freedom to do the same thing, day in and day out, without ever having to challenge ourselves or grow.

As a result, it becomes incredibly easy for us to sink into a routine of mediocrity. There is no true need to grow and change.

We are free get along just fine in society without needing to move much at all. We sit on our asses all day long at high-paying (in a sense of basic necessity) jobs, which allow us to buy cars to sit in.

As a result, it becomes all too easy to live in a state of perpetual relaxation. Aside from the occasional walk to the car or bout of carrying groceries to the fridge, we really don’t have to move all that much. 

We are free to live in a society where every food we could ever want is always available.

As a result, we have no need to pick the most nutritious options for our meals. We can eat so much, and so frequently, that is becomes incredibly easy to fall into the habit of eating what is easy to make and what tastes good.

We are free to have unlimited access to a never-ending trove of screen-based distractions in the form of movies, TV shows, games, and the internet. This infinite torrent of fresh, diverse content ensures that we never have to be bored.

As a result, we lose some of the incentive to go out and do truly exciting things or to build strong relationships with people. When mental stimuli are always available, it becomes incredibly easy to take the path of least resistance and turn to screens again and again.

Worst of all, we’re free to do all of this without judgement. We live in a culture that is:

  • Self-centered, for the most part
  • Based on freedom, self-expression, and individual choice
  • Absolutely petrified of “offending” people

Sadly, the result is that hardly anyone will confront you and challenge you to change your mediocre lifestyle. Most people are either too busy worrying about their own lives or too afraid of offending you or “cramping your style” to say anything.

So, unless you do something about it, your abundance of freedom will very easily turn your life into one of complacency.

The problem, my friends, is that we are severely lacking necessity.

The Need to Need

It’s so easy to slide into a life of mediocrity because we don’t need to change. Put simply: Life is too damn easy.

Think back to any period of time before the modern age. People living in these time periods had the same needs that we do; however, they spend a lot more time needing.

If we’re hungry today, we stop sitting at our computers and go sit in our cars, which take us to the store. We go in to the store and walk slowly for 20 minutes – and most of us use a cart so we don’t even have to bear the weight of the food we’re buying!

We pay for the food with money we earned sitting in a cubicle for eight hours a day, then sit in our cars, drive back home, and go back to sitting at our computers.

100 years ago this was impossible. The average man who was hungry had three basic options:

  • Work tirelessly to grow his own food
  • Work a labor-intensive job to earn money for food
  • Hunt and kill his food (no easy task)

In all of these situations, there is a need to exert much more effort to get food. As a result, people tended to eat better food, and they also tended to move a lot more. Two reasons why they weren’t seeing their waistlines expanding.

So, as you should be able to see, need is the ultimate motivator. If you find that your life is becoming complacent and stagnant, then you have to figure out how to inject some necessity into it.

“Want requires willpower. Necessity works all on its own.” Tweet This

How can you inject necessity into your life when all of our freedoms seem to get rid of it? Here are a couple ideas:

Create the fear of loss. Let’s say you want to lose a few pounds. Simply wanting to lose weight requires a lot of willpower for success. But what if you needed to lose weight in order to avoid losing a bunch of money?

There are some gyms now that require you to pay a rather large deposit up front – and if you don’t hit the gym enough times per week, you lose it. That fear of loss is a lot more powerful than a simple want.

Leverage social pressure. It has been said that the company we keep defines who we are. If you hang with a group of friends who live mediocre lives and don’t care if you do the same, it will become very easy to do just that.

On the other hand, surrounding yourself with highly motivated people who care about you, know your goals, and kick you in the ass when you’re lazy makes you need to live up to their expectations.

Using tactics like these, you can create the need to break free of the complacent lifestyle that our crazy amount of freedom traps us into.

Over to You

Question time: How do you create necessity in your life when it seems to be lacking?

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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4 Comments on "Trapped by Freedom"

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Mia Moore

I definitely get “trapped” by freedom… that’s why I commit to so many things! I have two jobs, an internship, a sorority, 18 hours of classes, a ton of side projects…. I’m having the opposite problem now where I’m so overwhelmed by what I have to do that I don’t do anything.

There’s a happy medium in there somewhere, I’m still searching for it 🙂

Tal Gur

Interesting angle… Thanks for sharing Thomas. I enjoyed it 🙂


Interesting article, Thomas – I think you hit on some issues many people both feel and get bogged down in.

I like that you touch on creativity through restriction, which is something I think about a lot. I first really noticed the pleasure of it when I was learning how to cook vegan food. (Many of my friends are vegan, and I hate making food I can’t share 😉 At first I rebelled “Who the hell cooks without eggs?!?!” But I soon came to find that I really enjoyed rising to the challenge of replacing meats and milks and creating something delicious.

It’s also interesting the different motivations that can induce you to act in ways not (at first glance) in your best interest. The idea of self-imposing more traditionally extrinsic types of motivation… hmmm. Clever life hack.


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