Taking the bus to Folkestone, Dave Clark and I are on the top deck in the front seats with a big bag of dark red cherries to share. We see if we can spit the stones up and out of the small window, open just a few inches to let in the dusty summer air.
I am thirteen years old traveling the hour-long journey to the coast for fish and chips. In my excitement, I mistake the sugar for the salt and shake it all over my food. Dave laughs at my stupidity and we walk along the beach with ice cream, play crazy golf and spend an hour or so on the games in the amusement arcades before catching the bus back home.
As a teenager this was freedom. A whole day to do whatever we wanted without anyone to answer to. In those days freedom was simple.
When, some years later, I told my boss in my corporate job that my wife was pregnant with our first child he gleefully told me that I was now stuck there, nailed into a box, reliant on the predictable income and stability that the business provided. He seemed genuinely delighted at what he saw as my rapidly diminishing options. It shocked me and I never shook it off.
I told myself for years that when I eventually escaped the prison of corporate life I would do something stimulating. I would write a book or travel the world. What I didn’t understand at the time was that I didn’t need freedom before I started, I needed to start to set myself free.
But freedom is a misnomer because it costs.
Where I’d seen corporate life as the one solid thing to hold onto as I slid into a pit I learned that it was part of the problem. I was bored and unfulfilled but I felt trapped, just like he’d predicted, forced into a life I hadn’t planned but couldn’t leave. Fear is paralysing and the paralysis makes it worse.
When I told that same boss I was leaving to become a self-employed therapist he was disbelieving. He couldn’t compute the idea that I would throw in my cards and leap from the gravy train on the off chance that someone might pick up the phone and hire me to help. To him that didn’t look like freedom, it looked like the opposite.
Had I considered the risks before jumping I may never have jumped, but few of us can make something different happen in our lives while preserving things as they are. Leaving myself without an option was the root of success.
Through all of the years I had been in therapy, days spent with introspection, finding out about myself, I was finally able to see my own uniqueness. Other people could do what I was doing of course, but none of them could do it like me. Freedom became essential.
When we say we want freedom often we just mean change. Freedom is something different, it is choice, and it demands that we shift responsibility from outside of us and take it on ourselves. It means we have nobody to answer to but nobody to save us either.
It’s been years since I boarded a bus to Folkestone but I feel no less free as a result. Not because everything is easy but because I came to understand that I can always rely on myself, whatever happens.