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I have read some great books on philosophy, psychology, work ethic, and finance over the years, but one book in particular has influenced me the most. It’s one that I revisit often to keep it’s ideas fresh in my head. It is How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne.
The book is about how to find the freedom to live how you want in a world where it may feel like the government, institutions, peers, coworkers, or family members are preventing you from doing so.
This book is packed with wonderful ideas. Here are a few of my favorites.
“To be nobody but yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you somebody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” — E.E. Cummings
To be true to yourself and pursue a path in life that makes you happy is one of the most difficult tasks we can undertake as humans. Whether it’s our friends, teachers, parents, siblings, coworkers, or bosses, virtually everyone we know freely gives us their thoughts on what they think we should do in life.
Parents and siblings have a tendency to give us life advice. Friends have a tendency to dish out relationship advice. Teachers, coworkers and bosses tend to give us career advice. All of these people have good intentions – they want what’s “best” for us – but unfortunately with all this input, it can be hard to hear the voice inside ourselves telling us what path we actually want to pursue.
This makes it difficult to go against the grain. To choose a working life that aligns with our interests, relationships that suit our needs, and lifestyles that bring us joy, is one of the hardest things to do.
When we choose to do something that doesn’t align with the advice given to us, we’re often told we’re being “selfish”. Browne offers a great rebuttal to this:
“And when someone accuses you of being selfish, just remember that he’s upset only because you aren’t doing what he selfishly wants you to do.”
This piece of advice is particularly relevant in the personal finance space. In a world filled with low savings rates and rampant lifestyle inflation, it can be seen as selfish to actually save money and live frugally. The world tends to view savers as “greedy”, “money hoarders”, and “tightwads”.
Browne offers a different perspective. The people who label you as selfish are only doing so because you aren’t doing what they selfishly want you to do.
Ty from Get Rich Quickish recently wrote a nice piece on this concept, referring to taking care of yourself first as “Airplane Mode”, in reference to placing your oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others during airline emergencies:
By living frugally and saving money, you can build a stable financial ground that gives you flexibility in life. With this flexibility comes freedom – freedom to help others, do work you actually enjoy, and contribute something meaningful to the world. Living frugally isn’t selfish if it frees up time for you to actually use your unique strengths to make the world a better place.
Browne goes on to share another fascinating idea:
“To be self-reliant is to recognize that no one else is as concerned about your future as you are and that no one knows as much about you as you do.”
Despite what everyone around you thinks you should do, you are the only person who ultimately has to live with your decisions. If you choose to live in a way that isn’t true to yourself just to make others happy, you are the one who will suffer.
“You are you, the person who will live with the consequences of what you do. No one else can be responsible, because no one else will experience the consequences of your actions as you will.”
When other people try to pressure us into a certain way of living, they don’t have to face the consequences of our decision. They simply carry on with their own lives. This is important to remember.
There are so many more influential ideas in this book that changed my way of thinking about life, but these are some of my favorites.
The overarching theme in this book is that to truly live a free life requires that we follow our own path and pursue a lifestyle that brings us joy, whether or not that aligns with the expectations of our peers.
Admittedly, this is hard to do. Many of us crave to please our parents, teachers, and bosses, but often this comes at the expense of our own happiness.
It’s important to remember that this is our only shot at life. You are the only person who has to live with your decisions.
To obtain freedom, take care of yourself and your finances first. By doing so, you’ll have the means to help others, pursue work you actually enjoy, and live in a way that brings you meaning and joy.
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