Independence comes in many forms. And from a young age, we are always trying to gain, and then show, our independence.
But what exactly is independence?
Ask a child, a teenager, an adult, and you will get very different answers. And all of them will likely be right.
A baby’s first steps are a form of independence. No longer will they need to rely on someone to move them from room to room. They can now move about on their own freewill. That independence gets limited as soon as the baby-proofing happens.
Ask an 8 year old what they want for dinner. Left to their own devices, you can rest assured they would choose something like ice cream and cake! Not practical, but that is what an independent 8 year old will choose.
The ultimate independence for a teenager is their drivers license. Free to roam, they no longer rely on parents to take them places.
Independence isn’t about not needing other people in your life. It’s about not needing to be validated by other people. It’s about making our own choices confidently without undue influence from others. About being true to yourself.
When I finished high school, the expectation for me was to go to university. There really wasn’t any input on my part. I was never asked if I wanted to go. The questions asked were ‘where are you going?’ and/or ‘what are you going to study?’.
If I was able to exercise my independence at that time, the answers would have been “Around the world. I want to see. I want to explore. I want to learn about people and culture. Then I will go back to school”. Instead my answers were to stay home and go to the local university. And then to the local college. I wasn’t ready to exercise my independence at that time.
This is the thing I can point to most in my life where I allowed others to dictate the course of my life, rather than making my own decision. I was old enough to make that decision. But the expectation of society, of my parents, or my friends, of my brother who had just graduated, superseded my own wants at the time.
Do I regret not making the choice I really wanted to at the time? Sure. A little. I still haven’t explored and seen the world. And my knowledge of people and other cultures comes from books and exploring various ethnic restaurants.
After enrolling in university, I started to work part time so I could still manage my studies. I also wrote for the school newspaper. When I was done at university, I went to a local college to advance my learning some more. Still working part-time. As I wrapped up my studies, I inquired with my employer about coming on full-time. That started the week after I finished school. And I have been working full-time ever since. I will have to wait for retirement to see the things I have only seen in books or on tv.
By not exercising my independence, I think I have lost the opportunity to explore the world the way I wanted.