• Mark Ward

Structure vs Freedom

Have you ever met someone who lives life in a way that seems too structured? They don’t break their routine for anything. They have anxiety any time there is a change to their schedule, job, or plan. They prefer a life that is predictable and known. They don’t understand why people can’t keep their word, or don’t respect others’ time, or fail to be intentional with how they live life. Perhaps this describes you?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, do you know anyone who seems to be too free? They don’t see why it’s a big deal that they’re regularly late for work, or why people can’t just be happy. They go where their heart leads them and neglect to see how their lack of planning affects those around them.

Both of these extremes are opposite sides of the same coin. Both are trying to live life in a way that invites happiness. In truth, structure and freedom are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they can compliment one another.

For most of my life, I perceived structure as confining or restricting. I remember my father telling me, “I can’t just have fun all the time.” I was determined to prove him wrong. Perhaps I’m still trying to prove him wrong.

When trying to create new habits, I felt the same feeling I had when I believed my father was a fun-sucker. I would feel controlled, inhibited or forced. If I set a goal to wake up early, I would be annoyed in the morning at the idea of being forced to do something I didn’t want to do. These negative emotions around structure would eventually wear me down and I would quit. Again. Ironically, the very desire to have fun was keeping me from living life in a way that makes it more fun.

I didn’t want to be bogged down by rules and routines. What if I missed out on something really fun because I was too dedicated to my routines? Life is meant to be experienced! What I discovered is the habits that mattered most to me often took a back seat to what was loudest, or what was happening right now. My relationships and my health were top priorities, but I would often put off caring for them because of some important thing that was in front of me. Perhaps it was work, or play. Regardless, I allowed the most urgent matters to take precedence over the most important matters.

After 35 years of allowing life to take me wherever it wanted, I decided to implement some structure. Soon, I was able to see how deliberately I could create my life. The more structure I created, the more freedom I had to do the things I really wanted. Even now, I sometimes still see structure as confining. I’m slowly learning to balance structure in ways that allow freedom.

I crave freedom. And I’ve come to see how structure helps me create it.

Whichever side of the spectrum you find yourself on, what do you think would happen if you ventured to the other side for a while? I invite you to consider the possibility that there is great power to be found in balancing these polar energies. If you love to go with the flow, you will be amazed at how often you can do this when your life is organized. And if you love structure, you will be thrilled at how much of what you’re seeking to gain from your carefully laid plans can be found when you let go.

Mark Ward

Founder, The Zen Soul

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