Just over a year ago, before I left for study abroad, my twin brother and I got matching tattoos. On his right wrist, in my handwriting, “Stay Free.” On my left wrist, in his handwriting, “Stay Free.” When we first got them, our mother was understandably furious. She said, “what happens when you get married?” “Hopefully when I get married I’ll still feel free.” Immediately slipped out of my mouth. It’s true though, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t we always feel free?
I used to think about freedom a lot. I still do, but now that I believe I’ve found an understanding of what freedom is to me, these thoughts are no longer frightening. I like to think of myself as a free spirit. I believe that anyone you ask would tell you that I am, and yet I often find myself trapped in the confines of my own mind. Still, I often appreciate being alone with nobody and nothing around, just my mind and me.
My thoughts often become so vivid and so real that I can simply relax no matter where I am or what I’m doing because the reality is that I don’t feel like I’m stuck wherever I am. It would be so easy to sulk every time I have to go to class and it would be so easy to be upset about it and let it ruin my day and feel like a wasted hour. Why would I want to go through life like that though? Why would I take the easy way out when the easy way doesn’t lead to any sort of fulfillment or joy? It’s so easy to notice the negative aspects of everyday life and to let them poison your soul. So let positivity in. Don’t worry about how boring class is, focus on the friends you might make because of that class, or even simply appreciate the chance to learn.
For me, freedom isn’t something you can put into words. It’s not material. It’s just a feeling. I’m sure this is a familiar feeling for many, but it’s also a feeling I never want to go away. So how do we find freedom? How do we find that feeling and hold onto it? In my opinion it stems from optimism, open mindedness and love. If you can consistently project these qualities onto others then you are free. Free of negativity. Free of fear. Free of hate. It comes from within, but we need to project it.
I’ve stopped setting alarms and closing the shades at night. One of the most incredible experiences for me is waking up to the sunlight. It’s not a sudden heart attack at the sound of your alarm. It’s not a chaotic rush to get up and ready as fast I can after sleeping as long as I could. It’s a slow and gentle touch of warmth letting you know that morning has come. I can’t express how relaxing my mornings are when I can take my time waking up and enjoy the silence of a new day. I have time to reflect on the previous day and to think about the day ahead of me.
I no longer allow myself to stress about much. Socializing used to stress me out until I realized that most people who want to talk to you are going to be friendly. Some of the best people I’ve ever met are those who I accepted into my life at the most unexpected times. My friends from India who were studying in Australia when I spent a semester there are the most generous and open-minded people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. And what’s better is that I know they will be my friends for a lifetime. I returned home holding onto their values of friendship and generosity and continue to spread those values everyday.
Music is also a major factor for me in holding on to this enlightening feeling. Lyrics and sounds have the power to change the way we are feeling in seconds. I find it important for myself to begin everyday with some music. My father has always been a huge Bob Dylan fan, and I’ve found that listening to his music while I prepare for my day has always been inexplicably comforting. Whenever my Dad and I take rides together we always listen to Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, who is my favorite. We often joke that we don’t have to rush home because we simply enjoy taking the time out of our day to slow down and appreciate something we both love.
There is also an incredible quote by Tom about college and life where he says, “the work never ends, but college does.” I encourage everyone to look up the entire quote. This worry-free mindset has been engrained in me. If my friends are all going somewhere the night before I have a paper due and I don’t want to miss out, I’m going to go anyway. That’s what I think life is about. We shouldn’t worry about an essay that, when you really think about it, is such a minor part of your life. Time with friends can never be replaced and we should make the most of every chance we get to enjoy their company.
On the other hand, alone time is so important if you want to stay true to yourself and achieve your own goals. I think self-reflection is imperative to an all around positive lifestyle. All it takes is ten minutes each day where you can find a peaceful spot to think about what it is you want, what you want to become, and what you love about yourself. I would like to emphasize that last part. Everyone should love who they are. I often take at least thirty minutes to myself just to reflect and I often end up writing without thinking. In other words, I let the pen touch the page and I’ll think of maybe three words before everything begins to flow smoothly like a waterfall from my mind to the page. I often look back at what I’ve written and don’t know how I managed to get to that point. But let me tell you, more often than not I look back at what I’ve written and I learn something about myself.
Of course there are days when I lose touch with myself and this feeling, I’m not perfect, but at the end of the day life is too good and too precious and so I believe we all must do whatever we can to be happy and love each other. Part of that includes helping others remain positive. I often don’t know how to help friends who are stressed or worried, but I have come up with a simple solution for any friend who is feeling anxious. I simply look at them and say, “hey, buddy. You can do anything.” Honestly a lot of my friends love to hear that, maybe because we don’t hear it enough nowadays. I believe it’s true though, especially if we work together. Mother Teresa once said, “You can do things I cannot do. I can do things you cannot do. Together we can do great things.” Together we can maintain freedom.
I guess what I am trying to say is, we all go through traumatic times. We all feel stress and anxiety in everyday life. We are all surrounded by negativity. However, simultaneously and beautifully, if you can recognize it, we are surrounded by positivity, love and hope. Stay Free.
“Why not”. Two syllables, one question, and a myriad of possibilities. To some, hearing these words may seem insignificant. For me, this simple question is incredibly powerful. It opens our minds to new ideas and cannot be asked enough. I believe that our words hold a tremendous amount of value. If they are thought-provoking, that value is immeasurable.
When our thoughts are challenged and our mind is tested, we are forced to think creatively. It’s in these moments that the magic truly happens. This is when ideas are formed, when problems are solved, when inventions are created, when revolutions are started, and when progress is realized. Asking this question helps us accesses our full capabilities.
They encouraged us to participate in their debates and ask them questions whenever we needed clarification. Apart from discussing the day’s affairs, dinner was often a time to present us with short lessons or teach us about whatever life had in store for us.
Any chance they got they would find a way to translate the issues they were dealing with into a version that we could relate to. While math and science were handled at school, I learned more about taxes, investments, philosophy, and life in general at the kitchen table than I did in any classroom.
One of the most influential lessons I learned during these talks was the importance of the phrase “why not.” A graduate of Cornell, MIT, and North Carolina State University, my father has received some of the best education this country has to offer. He first presented the wonder behind the phrase “why not” to me about ten years ago. After discussing one of my older brother’s psychology projects, my dad digressed a bit to recall one of the more memorable lessons he learned as an undergrad.
He began to tell us about one of the philosophy tests he took while attending Cornell. Like most of the tests he took in this class, this one was a short answer format. It had a series of essay questions, of which only one had to be answered. Among the possible problems was the shortest test question I’ve ever heard of, “Why?”
I couldn’t understand how a teacher could grade students on their response to such a vague question that seemingly had no definite answer (college has helped me grow a little more accustomed to such practices by professors). Sensing my confusion, my father continued the lesson by leaning towards me to ask, “What would you have written?” Determined to come up with the correct answer, my mind began racing through every possible answer.
After a few frantic moments, I accepted that my efforts were to no avail. I couldn’t wrap my head around what the question was asking. The question “Why what?” kept popping into my head. My only explanation was that it needed more clarification.
Defeated, I admitted that I was stumped and asked my dad what he had written. My father laughed and said that he had left it blank too. Out of thirty some odd students, only one had attempted to answer that question, and they did so in less than a minute. As you may have guessed, this student simply wrote down “Why not?”
Again I was shocked. But this time I was happy about it. At first it was only because I loved how bold the idea of walking out of a test after writing two words sounded. But as I thought more about it, I began to realize how incredible the response was and why my dad had told us that story. Although I didn’t fully understand the magnitude behind “why not” at the time, there were two aspects of the answer that really stood out to me.
The first was how profound it was. It’s not that it was particularly hard to grasp, it was just something I’d never given much thought to. Responding with “why not?” can be both a question and a challenge to authority. This becomes incredibly powerful when it is used to reject a conventional thought to explore new ideas.
The Wright Brothers said “why not?” when people told them it wasn’t possible to fly, Roger Bannister thought “why not?” when everyone said humans couldn’t run a four minute mile, and Steve Jobs didn’t hesitate to ask “why not?” when he was told he wouldn’t be able to compete with Microsoft. At some point, every great innovator starts with the simple question “why not?”
The second aspect that stood out was its simplicity. After I realized the depth behind the response, I was immediately impressed by how effortless it was to get there. But the more I thought about it, the more it just made sense. Why should we always accept what is presented to us? Why shouldn’t we ask for more? Why not?
At that point in my life, this was probably the greatest philosophical understanding I’d experienced. The fact that it had only taken an exchange of three words to get there was remarkable to me. My whole academic career, the value in the answers had progressed linearly with the complexity of the problems and the methods to get there. But this disregarded that rule. “Simple is beautiful”. I’d heard it before, but I hadn’t truly appreciated it until then.
The end of my fall semester marked a major transitional period in my life. Despite my performance in my classes, I was no longer interested in pursuing an engineering career. At the same time, I decided to step away from an Internet marketing business that I had spent well over a year building. On top of all this, my soccer career came to an end, a moment almost 18 years in the making. Seemingly overnight, my schedule changed drastically. At one point I was actually confused by the amount of free time I had. There was a massive void in my life to say the least.
After a few weeks of growing restless and not knowing what to do with myself, the remedy to my situation presented itself to me. While working on a problem set, one of my good friends Nick told me there was a small MMA club at our school and that he’d recently attended one of their training sessions. Thinking I might be interested in joining, he asked me if I wanted to go with him the next time he went. At the time I didn’t know much about MMA, but I knew it was a great way to stay in shape, so I said, “sure, why not.” Flash-forward to the following weekend.
The leader of the group, Sean had about 40 pounds on me and grew up learning Maui Thai. He takes personal ownership in not only training the club, but also in breaking in each new member to gauge their skillset. Needless to say I was a little concerned going into this fight. Fortunately I didn’t have much time to think about what might happen before the stopwatch started counting down.
Sean obviously held back and I actually landed a few good punches, but I got absolutely worked for three minutes. If I had to guess, watching that fight was probably similar to watching a dog chase a laser pointer, a good mix of comical and hopeless.
The next day I was in a world of hurt, but a beautiful thing had happened the day before. For those of you that have never fought, the first time you take a good strong punch is an eye-opening experience. At first you’re in a state of shock and panic. You can feel your nervous system trying to frantically figure out what’s going on. But the fight’s not over and you have to continue to deal with the next combination. Eventually you get used to it. When this happens, when your body finally adjusts to the concept of getting hit, your fear escapes you.
The only way to conquer your fear and to grow as a person is to get out of your comfort zone and to face whatever fears are holding you back.
After Sean’s first two punches, my brain had accepted that I could survive getting hit. It was a surreal feeling and it all stemmed from the question “why not?” That experience was a gentle reminder of just how important that question is to me.
From then on I took it upon myself to embrace those two words again. In doing so, I’ve beyond filled the void that once existed. Over the past few months I’ve done more than I ever imagined. I went snowboarding for the first time, I took up rock climbing, I took a ballroom dancing class, I became a weekday vegetarian, I found an internship outside of my major, I went off-roading at 6,500 ft., met Jay-Z, worked out with a Victoria’s Secret model, and had a cook-off with a world renowned chef.
I beat the house gambling, I explored Lake Tahoe, I played soccer in the U.S. Open Cup, I went bridge jumping, I back-flipped out of an airplane, I gave a speech in front of 400 people, I began teaching myself how to play the guitar, I rode some of the highest, fastest rollercoasters in the world, I began collaborating on a smartphone app, I raised money for a volunteer trip in Kenya, I became a licensed Realtor, and I wrote a published article. In the same time I’ve traveled to seven states and six major U.S. cities. Within the next two months I will travel to two more continents.
While none of these events are anything to marvel at, they are all things that many people, including me, long to experience. Unfortunately, they are also things that the same people often allow themselves not to experience. The only reason I ended up doing them is not because I’m some amazing human being (I can promise you I’m no different than the average Joe on the street), it’s because I made a conscious decision to ask myself “why not?” That’s it. That’s all it takes.
My challenge for you is to remember those two words. Ask yourself “why not?” as much as you can. Ask “why can’t we do this?” and “why shouldn’t I experience that?” This is not a call to spontaneity, or a request to blindly say yes to every opportunity that presents itself. It’s simply a matter of considering all of the options that are in front of you before you make your decision. There’s nothing to lose, and in my experience, there’s an incredible amount to be gained. So why not try it?