Substitutes for Freedom

“‘We’re short-term thinkers,’ Stallman says.’Do you remember when Microsoft said, ‘Where do you want to go today?’ I said, ‘How do you want to live in five or 10 years?’ That’s our question.”

Taken from the November/December issue of Psychology Today

I have been looking for something for two days. Technically, it’s been more like eight years instead of two days, but these last two days have really been revelatory. While social media posts of impending doom and fear and anguish grip the nation due to a certain president-elect, I have fully realized a search for Freedom not felt since childhood. Here, an explanation:

I work with teenagers. Neuroscience and behavioral psychology tell us what to expect from teenagers, if in sweeping generalizations. Of course there are exceptions, and I truly have had exceptional exceptions, but generally speaking, the aforementioned sciences do a pretty good job of identifying the constructs and challenges one might face should one work with teenagers. Now, something that many models get wrong: poverty, abuse, and/or drug use will radically skew all known models of neuroscientific and behavioral evidence. No matter how many alterations of studies might be performed on test groups, poverty, abuse, and/or drug use will render all suppositions nearly completely useless. This is a major reason why teachers vacate the profession in the first five years. There is no way to simulate the insane range of abilities and background a teacher will encounter in his or her students.

It’s no surprise that teenagers push back against what they perceive to be authority figures. This impulse is natural and nurtured. At some point, a teenager will resist “the system,” regardless of system. My current students have it all figured out, just like those before them, just like we did, and those before us, and so on. Nothing new there.

What happens when you are in your late thirties and you can see another twenty years ahead, and it is the same bullshit with which you have been dealing for ten years already? What if you can escape most of your chains and challenge the prescribed rut you helped build for yourself? Do you do it? Can you? How many have?

I see it, friends. I see the Trap clearly. Teacher Retirement System. Employer-matched contributions. Healthcare. Insurance. “Job security.” Never mind happiness: Industry and Market tell us to make ourselves happy. To find joy and peace outside work. Guess what? It’s not happening. I’ve been around the block a few times, too. I know when it’s me. I know when I am defeating myself and setting myself up to lose. I know when my behavior is destructive and obstructing my path. It’s not me this time.

What are the real reasons we stay in jobs we dislike? Financial obligations? Sure. Too much debt makes it unwise to throw caution to the wind. I get it. What if debt is eliminated? Still necessary to stay in the disliked job? “Oh, stop. Everyone dislikes his or her job. It’s called ‘Work.'” Perhaps…but I suspect that interview did not include people without debt who pursued their passions. I’m guessing those people are too busy enjoying life and doing what they should be doing, instead of willfully staying in the rut.

I do not possess the genius of Richard Stallman, MIT-affiliated software developer, and the source of the introductory quote. Stallman is largely responsible for GNU, and by proxy, Linux. The article in Psychology Today is utterly fascinating for its focus on Stallman’s eccentricities and unwavering stoicism. I do not have his level of intellect, not do I have his resources. However, Stallman is just like anyone else who is awake in the Matrix. Once you are up, it is impossible to go back to sleep.

When we are adults, I believe we sacrifice freedoms we forget we have. We were too busy worrying about 18, then 21, then maybe that sweet insurance discount at 25. We skipped past the part where there is a gigantic section of adult life in the folder “Do What You Want.” No offense to those of you with children, as your folder looks a little different from mine.  I really think it is this simple: Are you happy with what you are doing? If so, keep it up. If not, well…why are you still doing it?

What I have been looking for these last two days/eight years is permission. I forgot how to Do Something Different. I think it is time. I think TRS and matched contributions and healthcare and insurance and job security are going to have to take a back seat. I think it is time to live again, not just count down days until the end of a contract, the end of a school year, the trail to a once-a-year planned vacation, the end of life. I’m tired of counting. I’m ready to build.


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