Julien Smith’s post Give in to the machine gets to the heart of a problem I’ve always had when I had too much free, unstructured time.

Freedom is killing you. This is the problem most of us with day jobs have too. We’re so used to being told what to do during the day that we never let our own internal machine develop.

Think about it: Would you even have graduated high school if you weren’t forced to be there?

Would I have followed through and finished high school? My gut reaction is to declare, but of course! It’s what you do to get a job and move up in life. But honestly, I’m not sure if that’s really the case for me. I don’t know if I would have stuck with it if I didn’t have to. I had other desires and ambitions.

I wanted to write and I was fascinated with print design and the fledgling web design industry. I had a lot of interests that didn’t seem to coincide with what school was trying to cram into my head.

After I graduated high school and went on to and college my free time grew immensely. With that new-found free time I didn’t apply it to my studies. I didn’t apply it to any great craft. I didn’t apply it to much of anything. I slept some. I drank gallons of Mountain Dew in a vain attempt to feed my creativity and to learn as much as I could about the world and specifically web design as I thought I could.

I took classes, I did ok in them but I never excelled like I had in high school. All my life I had been told to work to my potential and push myself because I was smarter than that. Then, when I was in college, all that exterior prodding goes away. Sure, I didn’t fail out of school and I knew enough to keep my grades up fairly well but the fire was gone.

The motivation was gone. I had worked and worked hard to get into college which was supposed to be a challenged and I wasn’t challenged. I drifted through and for the first few years of my life out of school I didn’t have a fire underneath me.

I worked hard at whatever job I happened to be doing but the fire and drive wasn’t there. I hadn’t realized it had been so long since I had to motivate myself, I had forgotten how to be self-motivated.

I don’t mean that in the “are you a self-starter” job interview question kind of way. I always worked hard at my jobs. Often times too hard for what I was getting in return in either money or respect. But I continued to work hard because that’s what I knew would eventually lead to better opportunities.

A couple of times since graduating college I’ve tried to in a freelance capacity. I’ve tried to work as a web and print designer and that dream ended with a parade of poor choices.1 I’ve tried to work in tech support as a remote worker and there wasn’t enough structure for me. I entertain the idea of becoming a freelance writer, technical or otherwise. But every time when I really think about it and get down to it, I prefer to work in a structured environment.

I like the security of money and time off. I like the security of having a consistent income and having the freedom, albeit comparatively limited, to do what I want to do with my life when I am not at work.

There is a trade-off with freedom. Sometimes too much can be just as bad as too little. When there is too much freedom, I lack the discipline to make it work in my favor because it was always a should and not a must.

  1. Hindsight is always 20/20.