How to find inner freedom?
To be internally free, then is to know who you are, accept yourself and then work in directions acceptable to you
Mental and emotional freedom is not the denial of truth — it's the recognition that truth isn't something we need to run from or be afraid of -TK Coleman
The term 'inner freedom' has been spoken of fervently and frequently in public discourse. It is a term in much currency in conversations about mental health and self-help and most people emphasise the need to guard it. Yet, there is little talk about the nuances and intricacies that accompany actualizing it. After all, what does it mean to be free internally? How does inner freedom differ from inner peace and why does it remain elusive? Above all, what can it accomplish in real, actual terms for us? These questions merit a probing.
First of all, being free inside has to do less with the immediate idea of freedom or with success and prosperity and more with self-recognition and consequently, self-acceptance. You are free as someone and that self-image has to be nurtured and built over time with painstaking attention to your own self. Manfred FR Kets de Vries, Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development and Organizational Change at INSEAD in France, recounts a story in a HBR article that exactly lays out the problem, where external identities can in contradiction with the inner self.
"Tina was at a crossroads. Her daughter had recently left for college, and her husband had his own pursuits. And although she'd once enjoyed banking, she now bore little interest in her work. For some time, she had been asking herself whether she should quit. But what would her colleagues and bosses think of her?
This stream of consciousness carried Tina to deeper, more revealing questions. What if all her choices had been in response to what others expected? She had always been her parents' golden child – a star student who married a man they approved of and went into the same industry her father and grandfather had pursued. Now, at the age of 45, she was wondering if these choices were really pseudo-choices, given the pressure her family had put on her? And even more frightening: What other choices did she have at this point in her life?"
The above story clearly demonstrates how external freedom and success can prove to be epidermal in the lack of self-recognition. There is no way to be internally free if we do not know who we are on the inside. In many cases, even if self-recognition does occur, it might be hard to embrace it, which by default, makes inner freedom an impossibility as our actions in the absence of self-acceptance do not only take us away from who we are but keep us shackled in a way that even our accomplishments do not seem our own.
To be internally free, then is to know who you are, accept yourself and then work in directions acceptable to you. This is the simplest and truest way to put your inner freedom in practice and make it pave the way for several worthy things. This includes emotional resilience and versatility, for when you are free on the inside and know that you will still have yourself to propel you, mishaps and disasters can be handled with a motivation that is your own for achieving dreams which are your own.
This might lead to unconventional choices, but in a situation of being true to yourself, they most certainly pay off, either getting you success or inner joy and in the best case, the two together.
The story of Marc Bates as recounted by Forbes provides a suitable example. Earlier, a member of the cabin crew for a well-known airline, Bates was used to a hectic way of life and took up photography as a hobby to relax in his spare time. In light of a personal tragedy, he rethought his career and took a year out to spend more time taking photos, and also discovered the world of wedding photography. After some struggles, he decided to pursue a full-time career in the field and made the choice of starting his own photography business. After some trials, he succeeded and was voted Best UK Wedding Photographer in 2018 and 2020 by the UK Wedding Awards and is now reputed internationally for his work.
Guarding your inner freedom, which can lead you to great places, is thus an act of getting in touch with yourself and accepting what you want and then acting upon it. As long as your journey is yours and is propelled by your inner freedom, not only will you be resilient in the face of the ups and downs that comes your away, but your success shall bring you much greater, self-affirming joy.
(The author is Chief Impact Officer at Recykal Foundation)