Do The Work: The Tough Secret To Freedom and Fulfillment

As a lifelong dreamer and dilettante, I've always struggled with discipline and organization. I felt like I didn’t inherit the genes for "grinding" and "hustling". It was as if those wires weren't hooked up when I came off the factory line.

It was easier for me to marvel at the fictions of society, scoff at the Roman calendar, and chuckle about the manic stress we create as we compartmentalize our days.

I got hooked on this spiritual brand of "freedom." It was a quest in the realm of the psyche, pursuing the Buddhist notions of liberation and enlightenment. I sought internal freedom, which became another attachment serving an ulterior motive.

How could freedom be synonymous with hard work? Next to each other in a sentence, they seem to create an immediate paradox. How do struggle, strain, and toil relate to feeling untethered, sovereign, and carefree?

But last year, I learned an immutable equation that planted the seeds of a simple, potent idea in my mind. Ex-Navy SEAL team leader and author of "Extreme Ownership", Jocko Willink broke it down in two words:

Discipline = Freedom

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Jocko argues that freedom comes from rigorous discipline in health, wealth, and relationships. Freedom is the ability to do what you want, when you want. And it only comes once you've made the requisite sacrifice.

You’re able to do what you want, when you want, because you have integrity with your word. You don't just talk and journal about the life you want. You must follow through on the tasks and organization to make it a reality.

You delay gratification in the moment for a future payoff of your own design.

If you need more time in your day to jumpstart a passive income stream online, wake up at 5am and get moving.

If you want to take a surf trip to Mexico, skip the schedule of casual drinks and set aside some cash each week. Or, just work extra hours.

If you want to release an album, you’ll have to slot time to practice, record, and pay to have it mixed and mastered.

Watching another motivational TED talk won't win your more freedom and fulfillment. Despite our intentions, self-help books, and aspirations we must confront a simple truth:

We have to shut up, show up, and do the work.

My Struggle with Discipline & Creating Freedom

I used to sit around brooding in tragic angst, wondering why things never fell into place. I waited for perfect clarity on my life’s purpose, for the perfect idea to pursue and the right career path to follow.

I thought I was fundamentally broken and that things would never work out for me. I wanted to make like Thoreau and flee to the woods in a dramatic and noble act of rebellion.

I couldn’t understand how I couldn't seem to make my life work. This was in spite of everything I’d read, the cosmic harmony I felt, the hours I’d meditated, and my desire to help others.

I couldn’t see it then, but my dilemma came from being too torn to take action in any direction. It felt like I was standing with either foot in a different canoe. Should I root down in the trenches of capitalist society, or blow this pop stand and get off the grid?

I finally realized what my desire to escape represented. It was a covert means to avoid the commitment and responsibility of adulthood. I shrouded this in spiritual garb, which is a childish version of freedom. Deep down, this was symptomatic of a fear of life.

It took a while before a new understanding would crystallize. Jocko helped me realize that genuine freedom doesn't mean being a carefree vagabond. It's more about work, willpower, and grit. It's more about having the courage to create a material life aligned with one's values and vision.

Going off grid may be the authentic expression of those values and visions for some people.

But despite my beatnik attitude, I was always left hungry for growth and contribution. I yearned to unleash my full potential and leave the world a better place than I found it.

Doing so authentically (in a way that leveraged my unique skills and talents) made me feel expansive, joyful, alive, and purposeful.

I had a shallow drive to opt-out of our planetary game of Monopoly. But I couldn't ignore a stronger calling to dive into the trenches and transform it from the inside out.

This became the orienting purpose of my life. Pursuing it became the only option. But to begin making changes in my outer, material life, I had to develop discipline.

Finding Your Freedom

The renunciate approach may work in a monastery. There, you're insulated from the obligations and pressures of society. But life ‘in the world’ doesn't afford us that option. Our spiritual work is different if we choose to stay.

There are no shortcuts if you choose not to flee to Walden Pond. You have to do the work if you aspire to create something, whether it's art, an online business, or societal change.

Freedom, to me, is a synthesis of inner and outer paths, interlocking like the teeth of a zipper.

Internally, it’s about loosening concern for others' opinions. It's about mapping the architecture of your own mind. On this course, you'll get intimate with your fears, behaviours, and subconscious agendas. This is the ‘operating system’ that can choke your growth and expansion.

It also means understanding the desires you harbour in the depths of your heart. You know, those that make your chest swell when pondering their manifestation.

Outwardly, it’s about failing forward, taking chances on ideas, inspirations, and relationships. By living out there on the edge, we refine our intuition, which lead us closer to the truth. It’s about risking being wrong, feeling pain, and emerging a richer, wiser person forged by those fires.

Becoming your best self and building your dreams will demand your blood, guts, sweat, and tears. But in what else could be worth spending our fragile, precious time on?

Freedom is an abstract concept. It looks different for everyone. You must contact the truth of what success, happiness and fulfillment look like for you. Rather than living off others' blueprints we must define freedom for ourselves.

Only you can discover the coordinates by which to set your course for this pilgrimage.

So I ask: What does freedom look like for you?

Now hoist the sail and get after it.

Written by Chris Sol