Keeping an eye on freedom

Since the economic downturn began in 2008, many American families have been forced to make unpleasant choices. We all know the great list of tragedies: foreclosures; bankruptcies; job loss; destruction of tensed relationships; increases in stress-related illnesses… .

Fortunately, the U.S. economy looks to be solidly on the road to recovery. Even so, a lot of lives are still in disrepair.

In a recent article for the website,, Tova Payne lends important perspective on life’s pitfalls. In the piece, “Create Your Life: Having Nothing Can Mean Having Everything,” Payne opens with this quote, “Breakdowns can create breakthroughs. Things fall apart so things can fall together.”

Anyone who has weathered a major life storm may well regard such observations as either the musings of a naïve Pollyanna or just one more trite aphorism void of substance.

As Payne explains, it is neither. Her personal journey to this realization began with a year-long stint in a tropical paradise. As she notes, “Living on an island is very different than vacationing on one. I felt totally empty. I felt like I had nothing.”

Many of us have doubtless reached that point. Maybe we’ve been close to homelessness. Maybe we’re sitting in a palatial estate … a gilded cage, if you will. At either extreme and all points in between, the travails of life can leave us feeling empty and rudderless.

Payne then describes her personal turning point, “I had no job or city to go back to. Yet, it was just the breakdown I needed to move to the other side of the breakthrough. A friend I met down there, another nomadic adventurer, said it so simple and straight, ‘Well, since you got nothing, you’re really free to do anything.’ And in that moment was a major mental mind-shift: Having nothing also means having everything.”

We’ve all heard the “life is too short for this kind of…” maxim. It is. Life is too short to spend it on a existential treadmill. It is too short to blindly labor, day in and day out, without any consideration to the needs of your one true self. Yet, because we so clearly see the immediate financial fetters that bind us to monotonous repetition, we dare not look up from the grindstone.

Payne quotes Tony Robbins: “It’s not about resources. It’s about resourcefulness.”

The more we focus on what we don’t have, the more we give that void power over us. By stoking it with energy that could otherwise be used to extricate ourselves from the peril, we unintentionally tighten its grip.

As Payne states, it begins with mindset: “If you want anything to change in your life, you need to change your mind first. If you feel like you are in a the midst of a breakdown — like things around you are falling apart and not going the way you hoped, you need to first change your mind and then choose another way.”

A couple of years ago a group of criminal justice professors at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock began the Reentry Program for inmates in the Arkansas Department of Correction. Designed to give inmates perspective and life skills necessary for living in free society, it’s taught as a series of classes.

In one of the classes the instructor asks the men if they’d rather be somewhere else. They all say “yes.” The instructor then reminds them that Arkansas runs several other prisons. They could be somewhere else and still be captives. The moral is simple: don’t just ask for change. Ask for what you really want — freedom.

Inmate or free, the rules are the same — don’t focus on the negative. Focus on the goal.