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We celebrated Independence Day just a few days ago, and this Fourth of July was a little ironic, as many people are still locked down because of the fear of spreading or catching the pandemic COVID-19 virus. However, we are still relatively free to do and choose as we wish in this country, and it’s something I will always be grateful for.

However, I know that freedom is not just being out of jail or slavery in the literal sense. Unfortunately, I meet far too many people that put themselves in a virtual prison that keeps them from advancing their career, strengthening their relationships, and just becoming a better person. They hold the key to their self-created cell in their hands, but are either afraid or unwilling to use it to open the door.

Think very carefully and very deeply about the things you want and why you haven’t gotten them. Write the reasons down. If you’re completely honest with yourself, they are more likely excuses than reasons. Excuses are the things our negative voice tells us to keep us from even trying to reach the next level. (Read more on how to deal with excuses here.)

We may also have fears... of failing, of being ashamed at falling short, of making mistakes. My friends, realize that these are the very life experiences that teach us, grow us, and develop us into better people. They aren’t easy experiences to go through, but again, it’s a matter of telling your negative voice to pipe down, sit down and watch as you go forward anyway.

The answer is simple, but not easy... Just. Get. Started. Map out your steps, and start with a goal (written down of course) that isn’t so far-reaching that it will take years to achieve. But maybe this is a smaller piece of that journey that moves you closer to it. What will you each day, each week, each month to move that ball forward? Write that down too.

In addition, as you plan, plan to fail or make a mistake. That’s not saying you’re going to write down, “On Wednesday, I plan on losing a client.” No, I mean writing down “Here are the steps I will take if or when a client decides to go elsewhere.” Think of as many options that you would have, so the setback doesn’t catch you completely off-guard or derail the entire plan you have mapped out. You have options, and that is freedom.

I also want you to remember two words: So what?!

I’m not asking you not to care, but I am asking you to not beat yourself up over missteps, lost opportunities or falling short. In your head, that voice will be telling you that you couldn’t have, shouldn’t have, or simply can’t. Your answer is: “So what?” I fell today, and I have the freedom and opportunity to rise tomorrow. And the next day.

My father, who is the survivor of the Nazi death camps in World War II, will also tell you that the past has a place. It tells you where you have been, and where you don’t want to go back to. Don’t live in the past or dwell on past mistakes. The past needs to stay there, and be used to propel you forward to better things. More on him in a minute.

Freedom is no doubt scary at times, because it’s ours to create, but it is far better than being miserable because we feel trapped by fear and indecision. Misery is optional — you can be happy and do what you need to do. Just keep making progress and move forward, one step at a time. Reaching even small goals gives you great energy and enthusiasm to get to the next, and the next. Pretty soon, when you review your progress, you’ll be impressed by how far you have come. That is freedom.

Back to my father... understand that there is simply no way to understand the horror of the holocaust if you did not live it. However, my father looked at the barbed wire and high walls, which were real, and still moved forward. He was fortunate for sure, as so many others never got the opportunity to start a new life after they were liberated. He made the choice to truly be free.

His attitude?

“There’s a thing called life, and as long as I’m alive, I have to do everything in the world to make my life the best it can be,” he tells our family. He came to America with a nickel in his pocket, and started that life. He married, had a family which included my older brother and my only sister, named after his parents. It’s something he is extremely proud of. Today, you can still find him in his office, working by 10 a.m., and he is 92 years old.

That is freedom.

So my question to you is how much do you want to make your life the best it can be? How much do you want to live? How much do you want to celebrate your freedom?