“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.”
Viktor E. Frankl.
We all have different themes for our life stories. A strong theme for me has been freedom. I am attracted to freedom stories, activists, and people who express themselves authentically. I’m also deeply attracted to real love stories!
But what is freedom? In my own life, I’ve found that it is alignment. The times in my life, when I wasn’t free, were because I was out of alignment with the truth of who I am.
When I was five years old, I learned about freedom in a moment of truth. My best friend had gotten a short haircut. Now, at that time, my hair was long and I loved it; I played with it and wore a ponytail, two ponytails, or braids.
One day, I came home and told my mom I wanted a short haircut. My mom looked into my eyes and asked, “Why? How did you come up with this idea?” She finally figured out that I was influenced by my friend’s haircut. So, she asked, “Are you sure?” “Yes,” I said.
Then she said, “I think you’re just doing this because your friend cut her hair. Are you sure you want to do this? You know it takes time to grow back, right?” I put my hands on my waist, looked her straight in the eyes, and said, defiantly, “Yes!” So, my grandma came home and cut my hair.
What happened, then?
When I looked at myself in the mirror, I cried and cried. I was so upset. It was one of my first experiences giving away my freedom of choice. What I wanted was to be liked, to fit in. I convinced myself I wanted something I didn’t want and I faced the consequences. My mom’s wisdom made it clear that I was not a victim of anything but my choice.
Twenty-five years later, I was in a similar situation at a corporate firm, where I was just as affected by others to change myself. I started wearing khakis to work when I had never liked them, shopped at new stores, and went to a salon for highlights.
I have always worn my hair naturally, and there I was with a woman with over-bleached hair who was about to do my highlights. My body tensed, but just like when I was a child, I had already made my decision so I went ahead and did it.
Of course, the same thing happened: I came home and cried. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I was starting to lose myself. First with clothes, then with highlights. Everyone at the office was thrilled with my new look, but I felt out of alignment with myself.
I realized that this company wasn’t in alignment with me and I was trying so hard to fit in that I had even changed my hair. It’s still painful to remember, yet I learned something really valuable both times: freedom comes from a choice, and I needed to create some tools to ask myself what I wanted.
Freedom and alignment
First, I had to decide how much I was willing to compromise to fit in. My inner compass (or constellations, as I like to call them) said hair was now something I could choose for myself. And then, along with what I call “my guiding lights,” I created my first mantra: “Meaningful freedom is having the courage to be authentic about where I am being inauthentic.”
This has helped me understand the difference between what is in alignment with who I am and what is not. It gives me the courage to uphold it, because the moment you begin to compromise on small things, you’ll start losing yourself in many.
What at first may seem like a small, superficial change can lead you on a path away from your true self. Learn to pay attention to your inner truth and to what is inside and outside of your inner alignment.
Freedom is being in alignment, and living in truth. Pay attention to your alignment with small choices, as these choices will create your pathway.
There is a gift behind these experiences of fitting in. It’s a gift of freedom, of values, of guiding lights. It is the discomfort that often comes when we feel how much it matters to live in alignment with who we are, with our self-expression.
We are different, and each of us has unique areas of self-expression. Each of us has our language; learn yours and send love and gratitude to the lessons along the way.
My hair has given me deep lessons about freedom. I’ve learned to ask myself why am I doing what I am doing and how much of my life is being lived in the freedom of being who I am, in my truth.
I’ve learned to honor and follow my inner wisdom, to have the courage to travel my path and listen to the whispers, grateful for their lessons of love.
Virginia Nava Hieger is the author of Your Unique Gift: Finding Life’s Unique Gift Proposition and Meaningful Freedom: Finding Freedom Through Wholeness, two books aimed at empowering people on a journey of self-discovery, authenticity, wholeness, and personal freedom.
As a Transformative Power™ guide, she believes each one of us has our source of inner strength and that we simply need the tools to reconnect with it to let our light shine back out into the world.