How many of us feel like going to work on a Monday morning is a matter of choice rather than an obligation? Does your idea of freedom only involve not having to work another day in your life or is it something deeper than that? I ask these questions because some incredible people I’ve recently met during a month-long trip to Mexico have demonstrated to me that work can be a gateway to freedom, rather than a cage. Here are some of their stories.

Financial freedom
On my fourth day in Tulum I met a couple named Mango and Chango at a wonderful restaurant called La Malquerida. After taking me to a cenote for a swim they ended up hosting me for dinner that night at their grand casa in the middle of the jungle. They were in their late 50s, incredibly happy and affluent. I felt as though they were some of the freest people I met, but they’d worked for everything that they had. Chango (meaning “monkey” in Spanish) had worked in the commandos for 30 years and learned to become accustomed to jumping out of planes. He’d walked through snow and desert to get back to base camp, and had to trust the people in his battalion with his life. He told me that the commandos had an extremely high turn over because it was so demanding on your mind and body. People would often say to him, “If only I had your finances I could do X”. He would tell these people that if they wanted his finances they’d have to work for them just like he did. His finances allowed him to build a beautiful house in the jungle, fly anywhere in the world if he wanted time away and live off the interest from his savings. Who knows what other intangible things he gained from learning to jump out of planes at the drop of a hat?


Freedom to travel
At El Panchan lodgings near the ancient Mayan city of Palenque I met a couple, the Landeros, at dinner. Halil was Mexican and Nela was German. They were in their mid 30s. Nela made me laugh more than anyone on the entire trip because she was more cynical than me. The Landeros had been traveling on the road for six months around Europe and Mexico. It was the longest trip they’d ever done and they’d worked for all of it. Nela worked in the “psychopathic” (her words) world of politics in Germany as a representative for a political figure. She informed me that she’d never told a lie but a lot of the truth was told off the record. That is what I call hard work.

Freedom from bad habits

Chris doing some hand stands

In Tulum I stayed at an eco house with a designer, a restaurateur and some circus performers. I ended up riding a tandem bicycle to the Mayan ruins by the beach with Christoph, an acrobat. As we were eating dinner, I asked him what inspired him the most. He told me that people were, with specific reference to his kung fu sensei.

Chris he grew up in a rough neighbourhood in Austria, where people didn’t have any aspirations. He told me that he used to take a lot of drugs and not bother with going to school. The circumstances he was born into were not ideal for success. One day he met his kung fu sensei, who took him under his wing and allowed him to train at his dojo for free. He was compelled to train everyday and let go of his bad habits in order to become a better competitor. Chris went on to become a seven-time kung fu champion in Austria and now travels around the world performing acrobatics.

Now that studios are shut and with the new year approaching, give yourself some time to think about what freedoms you want in life and how work can help you achieve those freedoms. Is your picture of freedom defined by a lack of financial constraints? Is it characterized by feeling healthy and energized in your body? Is it being able to work in any country? Is it being in full awareness of your design process so that you can enter your flow state more readily? Exploring these things may give you a new sense of purpose to go to work after the new year break and a future you know you chose to create.

I made a list of things that made me feel free during my trip. Make one too about a time you felt most alive. It’s good starting point.

1. Honouring my own preferences over other’s

2. Being able to choose my own company

3. Feeling the distance from the beliefs of other people

4. Having my creativity recognized and celebrated

5. Honouring my intuition

6. Being experimental, trying new things

7. Being in environments that encourage expression

8. Spontaneity

9. Being aware of my finances but not having to worry about them

10. Feeling alive and healthy in my body