Huzzah for Routines of Freedom, Boo on Routines of Oppression

yoke-of-freedomAs you can see from the tag-cloud over on the right, one of the topics I’ve written about a few times here is routines. How the word can recall monotony and discipline, how even when I acknowledge their usefulness I’m not always good at getting them to stick, how distractions come up. Routines and I are not natural friends, it would seem.

But a routine can be a helpful productivity tool – as I’ve been navigating the numerous uncertainties of life as an unemployed person,  I’m beginning to think it may be an essential one. I’ve been thinking lately about trying to reframe the way I think about this issue that will agree with me on a deep, easy, intuitive level.

Routines of Freedom are good. Routines of Oppression are bad.

Perhaps not the biggest revelation out there, but it acknowledges the powerful truth that a routine is neither good nor bad by itself. It’s merely a tool. And right now in my life, I have a downright opportunity to embrace the relative freedom I have with my time to make my routine awesome.

A couple of months ago I spoke about how the word routine called to mind the word discipline, or “what negligent parents are instructed to do to their kids” and “memorizing multiplication tables.” Parents and teachers handing down rules from above – these are straight up Routines of Oppression. As someone who only recently concluded his third decade on the planet, they are the kinds of routines I’ve been exposed to for the majority of my life, so the association isn’t that weird. But it sells the idea of a routine short, and I’ll never truly come to believe in that word having benefits for me until this association is shed. Even if I can admit routines handed down from authority figures were helpful, the simple fact is they just don’t work as well for me now as they did when I was a child. 

You know what I do have as an independent adult though, that I didn’t have as a child? Freedom. The freedom to construct my own routines, and the freedom to choose to do so because I recognize that a routine is a tool I can use right now.

Again, perhaps not an earth-shattering thought in and of itself… certainly in the FIRE community, there’s a lot of discussion on how to spend your time once retired, and emphasis is often placed on defining a list of activities you enjoy that you can reach into to vision the blissfully free life ahead of you. Nobody talks well of routines when they say that though. It’s almost always about shedding one – the routine of the daily grind, which they’re generally itching to get out of. Even people who like their jobs tend to talk about relishing the chance to go down to a less structured set of hours that affords them more personal time.

I am unemployed, not FIRE’d, so I obviously lack the kind of freedom FI people have. Part of the routine I want to create is to help me enjoy my days more, but another (big) part is to help me get another job. The impending need for a job is a huge source of pressure and makes me constantly question how usefully I’m spending my time. While not wasting time is good advice for anyone, I simply cannot hang around reading books and going on walks and waiting for inspiration for some cool project to pop into my head.

I do, however, have quite a lot of freedom myself. I do not have to clock into work by 9am, or 10am, or start my day with any given task or account for my time at the end of a week. I don’t have to – but I can. I can set up any series of tasks for myself that I want, if they help me get done the things that I want to get done. I can create a Routine of Freedom.

This routine can look eerily similar to a Routine of Oppression at times. When I set my alarm in the morning, there’s little to distinguish it from the alarm I set while employed. A voice in my head shouts at me that I’m treating life like a job, a thing I generally wanted to escape. Getting up at 7am would be an absolute waste of my freedom from having to do so, it says. No matter that the reason I’m doing so has nothing to do with any boss breathing down my neck or any urgent emails with new assignments being handed down to me, but rather has to do with my choosing to be awake. To that voice, choosing to be awake then is simply incomprehensible. I have to silence that voice.

That voice misses the point. Happiness has nothing to do with waking up at 7am or waking up at noon, but it has everything to do with choosing when you wake up each morning.

And so I want to devise for myself a routine that I can enthusiastically choose to follow, and embrace, and relish the freedom of embracing. Sounds easy, though I know it won’t be – even aside from the philosophical change, I probably have a lot to learn about what goes into creating and following through with a sustainable routine. I don’t have a lot of practice. I’ll need to give it a few tries and stick with it.

But I can use this idea of a routine of freedom as an underlying source of inspiration along the way, which will hopefully power me through. A routine is a tool, and I’m going to use it to harness my freedom – yes, harness, as if the routine was a classically oppressive yoke. Even as I wrap up this post it’s still weird to think of a Yoke of Freedom… but if I have an ox-cart I want to pull across a field, and I put the yoke on myself, and take it off when I’m done, isn’t that just what it is?


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