Different Perspectives of Independence..
True empowerment: freedom vs. independence
As India’s Independence Day approaches I wonder why it isn’t called Freedom Day. Did India not free itself from its colonisers? Does it matter that the subjugation happened slowly over a few hundred years with the tacit consent of the country’s feuding rulers? The relationship between the British Empire and India over time had become one of co-dependence: both countries needing each other but with one wielding all the power.
What really is the difference between independence and freedom, especially when it comes to individuals like you and me?
Freedom is the ability to choose: to go where you want, to do as you please and to explore possibilities in their gorgeous limitlessness. It is also defined as the absence of control or external subjugation over your will and resources.
Freedom denotes possibilities in all their infiniteness. And yet, having the freedom is no guarantee of achieving even the smallest of those possibilities. That takes amongst other things: courage, conviction and resources. It is in the arena of resources that we often find ourselves relying on others and becoming hostage to one or more derivatives of being a dependant.
How someone chooses to exercise their freedom is also a function of their understanding and acceptance of their rights vs. their responsibilities.
Ultimately it is about choice: even when the choice is whether or not to exercise one’s freedom. The freedom to choose how we respond to any stimuli is one we’re born with but will often forget to exercise.
Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning portrays beautifully how it is possible to be free even when you’re consecutively imprisoned in four separate Nazi concentration camps. And conversely, how even his sadistic captors who had all the control sometimes languished within the prisons of their own minds. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
So you can have nothing, be at the mercy of others and still be free. Or you can have everything with opportunities to do as you please and still feel trapped. Could it be that in its truest sense freedom is the knowledge that ultimately we are our own captor and prisoner in the scariest of prisons: the one inside our mind?
Now let’s look at the concept of independence and how it relates to freedom. A good starting point might be to begin with the root word dependence for its different branches: co-dependence, interdependence and independence.
Dependence is a state of being in which you are reliant on, or controlled by, something or someone. Independence is the absence of such dependence and being without external control or influence.
As children we are dependent on our parents and other adults for our needs and wants. As we grow older, this dependence can feel stifling. In the exuberance of youth, the idea of asking permission for anything feels like the antithesis of freedom. Hence, most young people can’t wait to fly the nest, to experience the world without being tethered by the leash of parental control.
Perhaps the older we get, some of that brashness of youth is replaced with resignation and acceptance that we must learn to live with rules and resources not created nor controlled by us.
Independence can also be viewed as a state of being in which you no longer have dependants. It’s the lifting of responsibilities that were once a big part of your life, the mundane regimentation of a different kind, one you yourself were complicit in creating.
Most parents with unfulfilled dreams that they’ve not projected on to their children long for the day when their offspring become self-sufficient. Their grown-up children flying the nest renders them independent in a very different way. These empty-nesters have waited for this golden time when they’ve fulfilled most of their commitments and have both time and resources to fulfill dreams they never before had time or money for.
Dependence can take many different forms: physical (including financial and other material things), mental, emotional and spiritual. Dependency can range from healthy ones inherent to living in a community to unhealthy addictions with their negative consequences. Mental dependence stems from the inability to think for oneself. Emotional dependence can be about relying on others for validation and happiness. We’ll leave spiritual dependence and what it means for another time.
Although dependence has negative connotations, it is not always the case. Imagine a world in which no one depended on anyone else. What a sad, lonely and purposeless life it would be with every man and woman living in a solitary island of complete self-sufficiency!
If freedom is about choice, then dependence is about the resources and structures that shape our choices.
Being dependent can make us accountable. It holds us responsible and may define our ability to translate an idea into reality. Sometimes dependencies imprison us and make us subservient. Sure, becoming independent from such chains is sweet victory. But if you’ve always been independent, chances are you’ve never experienced limitations or controls. They are challenges that are such a big part of creating something you never before thought possible. They push you to places where you never considered yourself capable of going.
Being independent will not automatically confer freedom, and being free does not require independence. Empowerment comes from finding the right balance between freedom and dependence, between rights and responsibilities, and between abundance and scarcity.
To feel truly empowered we must allow ourselves the time, space and opportunities to flow through the different stages in life; to experience different stimuli; to allow space to consider our response to them; and to respond in the knowledge that it could change everything: subtly or dramatically.
Amongst those will be choices on the variation of dependence, interdependence, co-dependence and independence we are willing to accept, tolerate and fight for.
Rohini Rathour is a Leadership Coach and Mentor who helps leaders become more self-aware, have deeper self-belief and exercise greater self-control. She previously spent two decades in wealth management investing in global stock markets and engaging with corporate leaders. Her two signature programmes Find Your Flow and Create Your Own Breakthrough are designed to be a leader who will make an impact and be remembered. More information about them is available on her website https://rohini-rathour.co.uk/
I want my Independence
I want to be able to buy gifts for my dear ones on birthdays
I want my name to be recognized
I want a meaningful thing, which is only mine
Can you guess the life stage of the person saying these?
- Fresh graduate, anticipating his first job
- Homemaker wanting to earn in her spare time
- Experienced woman professional re-entering the workforce after a break
While these aspirations can equally apply to any of the above, there is deeper irony in hearing them from women who once had them all, and had to later forego them.
Globally, millions of women end up taking a career break every year around key life events such as maternity, marriage, relocation, and caregiving responsibilities and struggle to make it back. Largely due to institutional factors. Deep societal (and internalized) conditioning about roles that women “ought to play”, inadequate or unaffordable childcare, and the general scarcity of work options that respect life stage as well as the professional achievement put these women at a crossroads.
For many, there are only Hobson’s choices practically, and inevitably this results in a career break.
Having faced biases when trying to return to work after a break myself, and having witnessed the journeys of several more whom we regularly place at flexible roles at FlexiBees, I can vouch that it is not easy; however it can be done.
As we celebrate the Idea of Independence this month (in many countries such as India, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia and Ukraine to name a few), if I meet a woman who wants to return to work, here are the 5 most important things I would tell her:
- You have already taken the most courageous step
It is natural to feel apprehension when faced with change or opportunity. It often helps to take the first step and “allow” for our fear-inducing thoughts to be proven wrong, especially if the end goal is something our heart truly desires.
Getting mentally ready to get back to work and taking stock of where you want to go is the important first step. Kudos for taking it!
- Explore the new, while being rooted in the old
If you were aligned to a specific function like Marketing or Finance, there is no need to attempt a change just because you think your work has moved on with the times. Look for the timeless principles in your field, distill your further learnings from your research and build adjacent and new work skills that will give you the additional edge.
- Embrace change
The World has changed more in the last 4 months than in the last 4 years. And some of this change is for the good. There is more acceptability to remote and flexible work today than ever before. There is increasing realization that employees are parents, spouses, sons or daughters, with a household to run. Organizations are learning to adapt and include the flexible way of working, and seeing their employees as whole individuals.
There is more opportunity TODAY for you to network online, attend talks by experts, meet peers beyond boundaries of geography, privileged networks and function. There are more chances to learn, skill yourself and grow, right from where you are.
- Show some numbers their rightful place
The number of years, either of your break or life, are just that – numbers.
Don’t define yourself by your gap, or your career as neither can define you fully. Do everything you can to prepare, in terms of establishing connections, updating yourself about your industry, and function, doing projects to be in the thick of things. Remember, the skills you bring, prepare yourself for, and things you do during the gap matter more.
If you insist on counting, count the number of times you have gotten up – after failure, after being dealt with blows, and the number of times you listened to the voice inside that asked you to keep going.
- Find your anchors
Do you have a buddy, an ex-boss, family member with whom you can speak about your progress? Invest equally in activities that will anchor you, and help you navigate the transition with resilience. For some it can be creative pursuits, for others – meditation or friendships.
Even if you stray from your goals of preparation for some days or weeks, gently forgive yourself and come back again.
Returnship is an iterative journey which will occasionally feel like going a few steps sideways or backwards. Remember every learning is progress and no preparation is wasted.
Deepa N Swamy – Starting out as a CA,and later on pursuing MBA from IIM Bangalore, Deepa N Swamy moved on to be a management consultant. She has donned various corporate roles across companies such as PwC, ITC, KPMG and Aptech. Today Deepa is one of the co-founders of FlexiBees (www.flexibees.com), together with her batchmates from IIM Bangalore – Shreya and Rashmi. Their vision is to ‘Make Work Flexible’ i.e. normalise flexi-time, part-time and remote-working. Over the years, FlexiBees has placed several women professionals in flexible, yet meaningful roles across Sales, Marketing, Finance, Technology, HR, Learning & Assessments. etc. At FlexiBees, Deepa regularly interacts with Women audiences in various forums and communities on how Women can find and thrive in alternate and flexible careers.