Juneteenth is an annual celebration of the end of slavery in Texas. Though President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, to be effective January 1, 1863, the State of Texas disregarded the executive order. Two and a half years after slavery was ended in the rest of the United States, the slaves in Texas were freed with the following order:
"... in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
When this year's Juneteenth celebration was announced in my Toastmasters meeting, a discussion ensued about the celebration and freedom. Some expressed that we are not yet free. A pensive reading of the Juneteenth order supports that viewpoint. The order simply changed the relationship from master-slave to that of employer- employee. The freedmen were advised to stay put, be quiet, work for wages, and expect no support from the government. In 2014 things have not changed much for African Americans or most other citizens. Theoretically we are free; actually we remain bound to our jobs.
Recently I had a conversation with a college classmate while attending our 40-year class reunion. For close to forty years she has been working for the same employer.
I asked, "Are you thinking about retiring?"
"I don't know when I can retire," she began. "I don't have a pension plan. All I have is my 401(k). I don't know if it is enough to live on because I don't know how long I'm going to live."
My classmate's response saddened me. I pondered the question: How long can we postpone living meaningfully and still have time to live meaningfully?" But I was also left with the question as to whether her goal was to live comfortably, lavishly, or meaningfully. The answer to that question would also determine whether or not you have enough to retire on.
Are you free to live a meaningful life?
You are free to live meaningfully when you have the space to grow and develop to your greatest potential.
You are free to live meaningfully when your relationships with friends, family, coworkers, colleagues, and cohorts stoke your drive rather than stifle your efforts.
You are free to live meaningfully when you have the opportunity to showcase your abilities, skills, and talents in service to others.
You are free to live meaningfully when you are allowed to define and be yourself.
The conditions that confine us and keep us from living free include devotion to things, attachment to a job, the need to be entertained, and a desire to impress others. Even though you may have proclaimed your emancipation from these enslaving states of mind and heart, you may yet be restrained by obligations for conditions in the past.
Devotion to things can restrict your freedom when it causes you to hold on to stuff you don't use; to buy new things just to have the latest model, fashion, or edition; or to amass more possessions than you have places to store them. You are forced to take away time for meaningful living when you give time to keeping your things clean, keeping them functioning, and keeping them safe. Worry about someone taking your property displaces space in your heart for reflection and/or creativity. Holding on to unnecessary things can tie you down when growth wants to push you up. You should free yourself from the things that are not needed for your survival or to fulfill your purpose.
Your possessions may further confine your life by requiring you to stay on a job you don't like just to make the money to pay for them. I meet very few people who say they like their job or like to work. The most frequent comment is that they have to work to pay the bills. More often than not the bills include paying for things purchased in the past with borrowed money. Now the debt is due and the job is a must.
If you work on a job from 8 to 5 and have an average round-trip commute time of 90 minutes, about 31 percent of your time is given to that job. That is a significant limitation on your freedom to live meaningfully. True, your retirement funds may be limited. It is also true that your retirement time is limited. Which do you value more?
To speed up your release from that unwanted job, you must learn to pare down your needs. The two tools to use to trim down your needs and, as a result, your need to make more money are these questions: Do I need it in order to survive? Do I need it in order to fulfill my purpose? If you don't get a "yes" to one of these questions, then the item is a want. If the pleasure in having your wants outweigh the drudgery of working, keep working. Otherwise, cut out the want and speed up your release from the job.
When you watch TV or rush to the latest movie opening, are you furthering the goals that bring meaning to your life? It is okay for the answer to this question to be no. It is okay that you seek entertainment for entertainment's sake. However, for the growth and development that will make life meaningful, you must moderate the time you spend being entertained just as you would moderate your intake of sweets. Like eating a delicious meal, watching television may be pleasing, but spending too much time doing so may not be healthy. If you are a slave to pleasure, you are not free to live meaningfully.
You could also be a slave to the approval and praise of others; hence, you spend time, energy, and money trying to impress them. You might impress them with your physical appearance, your social status, or your material possessions. Whatever time you spend on how you look or the level of your status in the community is time taken away from acting to fulfill your purpose. You can miss your full joy of life by choosing your life encounters based on what other people think of you or think you should be doing. To avoid being imprisoned by impressing, your ear should be attuned more to the voice of purpose than the voices of other people.
The freedom to live your life with meaning is a matter of choice. You choose what you will own; you choose where you will work; you choose how you will be entertained; you choose whether or not to have the praise of others. If today you feel shackled and unable to live the life of meaning you desire, you must choose to do something different tomorrow. When you set yourself free, you have cause to celebrate.