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If Security is a Myth, Then What of Freedom?

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal discusses the role of chance in saving for retirement, arguing that we can’t depend on the average 30-year return that’s often touted. Much depends on which 30-year period we’re investing in. If your career coincides with a relatively flat period or the markets, there’s going to be a natural limit on how much you can hope to reap for your future.

With financial security comes freedom. Maybe that freedom is in the form of a relaxed period of “Golden Years”, when you finally get to do some of things you’ve longed to do but couldn’t (because you were working). Maybe freedom is a blow-out sabbatical every now and then. Maybe freedom is working for yourself, so you can run errands and travel whenever you damn well please.

But haven’t you heard? Security is a myth. You could squirrel away 12% of your annual income for 25 years, planning and saving for that day when you’ll retire (freedom), and then a “global economic crisis” hits and POOF . . . there goes freedom.

A well-traveled, independent-minded friend of mine, Julie, has this Helen Keller quote framed in her office, and I remember reading it there several years ago:

Security is mostly a superstition.  It does not exist in nature,
Nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.  Avoiding
danger is no safer, in the long run than outright exposure.
Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

I work for myself (and with my mother), and relish in the fact that “getting ready for work”, for me, means simply putting on a robe, pouring coffee in my favorite mug, and sitting down to face my computer. But I’ve learned that my independence does not mean “freedom” to the degree that I long for – because I, like everyone else, have to work for security.

And ultimately even Oprah and Bill Gates don’t have security. Death could be at the door tomorrow. It’s a sobering fact.

Maybe freedom really is just another word for nothin’ left to lose. Today, I’m working on re-defining “freedom” for myself. More than the ability to do as I please, when I please, I think it’s about having the peace of mind – the space in my mind – to recognize and cherish the very small moments in my day that bring me joy.

How do you define freedom?


About Elizabeth Pagano

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Elizabeth consults with organizations on leadership/talent development. She is co-author of THE TRANSPARENCY EDGE: How Credibility Can Make or Break You in Business (McGraw-Hill), which has been translated into four languages and is now in paperback. A former business journalist, articles by and about her have appeared in a wide array of business publications, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN International, Outside Magazine,, Journal of Accountancy, CBS News, Web CPA, Business to Business, Talent Management, Employee Benefit News, Manage Smarter, and Canada’s Globe and Mail. You can find her book on Amazon:

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After 9/11, Elizabeth sailed with her mother on their family's 43-foot Beneteau, "Revival". To read more about their adventure at sea, go to Since their sailing sabbatical, Elizabeth and her mother have been working tirelessly to ensure that every career path includes a sabbatical or two.

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    This has been a recurring topic of late, and something close to my own heart. I always believed that being financially secure would allow me my freedom. In one sense it does, in that it allows me to come and go as I please, to travel, to see the people I care about who are some distance away from me.
    But that’s a different kind of freedom, and I think that is the problem. The kind of freedom where we feel free from stress and worry and can just settle back and enjoy life – that is all in the mind. Now that doesn’t mean it’s not real, it just means it’s as real or as unreal as you beleive it to be.

    On August 8, 2010 @ 8:58 am.
  2. Thanks for reading, Bebhinn. Your comment makes me think of Viktor Frankl’s 1946 book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, in which he chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate. He had no freedom…but he most certainly had peace in his mind. It’s an extreme example, but it’s true – our perspective is always so important.

    On August 10, 2010 @ 4:12 pm.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] as Helen Keller once said: “Security is a myth.” A job, a house, and a fully-funded retirement portfolio do not […]

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