When I walked into my AirBnb for the first time, the birdcage decoration on the coffee table caught my eye straight away. As someone who has spent the past decade working to create a life on my own terms, there was a deeper, more symbolic meaning behind it for me.
Despite aspiring to freedom for so long, I realized I had never precisely defined it for myself. I thought about it a lot, I had always worked hard for it, but freedom was always more of a feeling to me and not something I could clearly characterize.
Curious to know what others thought, I put up this poll on my Instagram:
I got more responses and engagement from this story than I would have ever imagined. Apparently this was a hot topic.
What resulted were some truly engaging philosophical conversations about self-employment, psychology, the nature of autonomy and kicking ass in life. One thing was glaringly obvious: freedom means different things to different people.
Here’s a collection of quotes about freedom that can help us view the lofty concept from different perspectives:
1. Freedom Quotes: Time and Money
The “what is freedom?” question commonly brings up discussions related to time versus money. It makes sense. These are most often our biggest immediate restrictions to freedom.
“In a job you trade your freedom and time for money.”Ken Poirot
“Working because you want to, not because you have to is financial freedom.”Tony Robbins
“Money gives you the freedom to do with your time what you want to do with it.”Richard Branson
“Being rich is having money; being wealthy is having time.”Margaret Bonanno
2. Freedom Quotes: Autonomy
For others, freedom is more about autonomy—the need to feel like they have choices and are the source of their own actions.
“Freedom – to walk free and own no superior.”Walt Whitman
“Freedom is the emancipation from the arbitrary rule of other men.”Mortimer Adler
“Freedom is the power to say no.”James Clear
“Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.”Albert Einstein
“Is freedom anything else than the right to live as we wish? Nothing else.”Epictetus
“Freedom in general may be defined as the absence of obstacles to the realization of desires.”Bertrand Russell
3. Freedom Quotes: The Mind
Freedom often starts in the mind, and these quotes express that notion perfectly.
“Man is free at the moment he wishes to be.”Voltaire
“I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind.”Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“Men talk of freedom! How many are free to think? Free from fear, from perturbation, from prejudice? Nine hundred and ninety-nine in a thousand are perfect slaves.”Henry David Thoreau
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”Thich Nhat Hanh
“Freedom begins between the ears.”Edward Abbey
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”Viktor E. Frankl
4. Freedom Quotes: Self Improvement
Freedom for some represents a chance to focus on bettering themselves, while for others it’s this very process of self-actualization that leads to freedom.
“Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.”Albert Camus
“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”George Washington
“Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves.”Friedrich Nietzsche
“Freedom is not the right to live as we please, but the right to find how we ought to live in order to fulfill our potential.”Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.”Jean-Paul Sartre
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”Vicktor Emil Frankl
i) Freedom Through Facing Fears
Freedom can also come from garnering the courage to step outside our comfort zones and away from security. It’s through facing our fears that we rid ourselves of them.
“He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.”Aristotle
“The secret to happiness is freedom…And the secret to freedom is courage.”Thucydides
“Most will give up an acre of freedom for a closet of security.”Dr. Idel Dreimer
“Most people want security in this world, not liberty.”H.L. Mencken
ii) Freedom Quotes: Authenticity
It can be stifling to feel the need to wear a mask or hide behind a persona all the time. For many, freedom is found through finding out who you are authentically and acting accordingly.
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”Ralph Ellison
“The best freedom is being yourself.”Jim Morrison
“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”John F. Kennedy
5. Freedom Quotes: Thinking Outside the Box
Don’t be afraid to be different. Freedom can be found through experimentation and trying things in new ways. Even when we fail, we become more resilient and move closer toward true freedom.
“Freedom is always associated with risk taking, whether it leads to it or comes from it.”Nassim Taleb
“Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.”Rosa Luxemburg
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”Henry David Thoreau
6. Freedom Quotes: Non-Attachment to Objects
Others find freedom through minimalism or by giving up the hold that objects have on them.
“The secret of happiness is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”Socrates
“It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.”Bertrand Russell
“It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.”Tyler Durden (Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk)
So, What is Freedom Exactly?
These quotes show us that freedom is more complex than simply having more time or more money.
Thinking back, I would have answered my own poll differently depending on what period of my life I was in. When I was a university student and working a job on the side, I would have killed for more time. But later when I was working a full-time job and hustling to work on my business during the evenings and weekends, it was money that represented freedom to me. I would have killed to be able to quit my job and start living my dream lifestyle faster, working on projects I loved and having time to improve in all areas of my life.
I’m grateful for the conversations that came up after posting the poll about freedom. They made me think (like all good conversation should) and lead to this post.
Tell me, what does freedom mean to you?