Freedom From or Freedom To?

Do you want to be free?

I’m guessing that your answer is a resounding yes.  Mine was, even before I had the language to express it.  My earliest memories are of roaming in our magical garden in Iran, and feeling like I was free to do and be whatever I wanted.  That was my 5 year old mind’s definition of freedom.

Later, as more expectations were laid on me - expectations of what a girl should be, what my religion and culture demanded, family obligations and academic expectations - freedom became something else altogether.  Freedom from, was what I longed for and actively worked towards.

By the time I reached my early twenties, I had successfully freed myself from all those chains that bound me.  I said to myself, “You can be whatever you want. Married, single, Jewish, Buddhist, a party girl, a loner, a professional, a wife, a mother…..Nobody can tell you what to be.  You’re free from all those ties that bound you.” This kind of freedom and independence was how I defined success.

Life was busy and to those around me, I looked to have great agency over my life.  But inside, I was untethered. I lived a life that, although immensely blessed, was not grounded.

In my 40’s I began climbing what David Brooks calls, “The Second Mountain” of my life.  This is the mountain we climb once we realize that the first mountain - the one where we did everything to create our own personal happiness - has somehow left us wanting.  Increasingly, freedom from things, people, and ideas didn’t feel so good. In that kind of freedom, I was alone. In that kind of freedom, I was deeply disconnected.

The last decade of my life has been defined by a striving toward the freedom to.  Slowly I began to understand (through working with amazing coaches and teachers) that what I deeply wanted was the freedom to live a life of meaning and purpose.  The freedom to do work that has me sharing my gifts, be financially independent, enjoy time abundance, and most importantly be inside rich and thick relationships.

David Brooks explains this kind of freedom beautifully when he writes, “ This is the freedom as fullness of capacity, and it often involves restriction and restraint.”  For me those restrictions and restraints meant voluntarily taking on the chains of deliberate professional practice, commitment to serving others wholeheartedly, showing up when I didn’t feel like it, practicing kindness when it did not come naturally, cultivating humility as a parent and a child, and so much more.  All these practices, which in a past life I threw aside in the name of freedom and independence, now were the exact practices that - with time and patience - would allow me the freedom to live the rich, committed and grounded life that I yearned for.


Yes, we all want to be free. But the quality of freedom from all restraints and commitments pales in comparison to the quality of freedom to live a life of rich connectedness. A life of interdependence, one defined by commitment to relationship, is the life that I hope for and support my clients to create.

Carolyn MahboubiComment