Independence

As the US is celebrating its Independence Day, I have been mulling over the theme of independence.  I’ve never really cared for Fourth of July cook-outs with nitrite-laced hot dogs and salty potato chips.  I do enjoy fireworks, especially when I still lived in the Washington DC area.  The Fourth of July fireworks on the National Mall are spectacular.

However, for this discussion, I am more interested in personal independence.

TattooThe dictionary defines independence as freedom from others’ influence, control or determination.   Another word that seems closely interlinked with independence is self-reliance – the ability to rely on one’s own judgment and abilities.

goneFrom the time I was a child, the struggle to be my own person and make my own decisions has been pervasive in my life.  First, there was the Catholic priest who punished me for exercising my free will to not attend student mass.  I couldn’t wait to turn 12 years old to drop religion class – which I did happily.  It took me many years before I was interested in looking at anything religious again.  But then I got to choose what I studied and how deeply I studied.

everyone into the waterAt the Gymnasium (university-track middle and high school), I was lucky to have Herr Schmitz as my teacher.  He told me much later, when I was an adult, that his mission was to teach us how to be critical, how to question authority, and how to think deeply.  We read both Hitler and Karl Marx in his class.  I am forever grateful for his Socratic questions and impenetrable half-smiles which often exasperated us.  I learned to forge my already independent mind into a formidable and highly useful tool (and, sometimes, weapon).

spider webAs a teenager, I struggled against my parents’ ideas of what I should do to earn a living.  I neither followed my mother’s advice to become a secretary nor my father’s demands to become a multilingual tour guide.  Somehow, I managed to move out when I was 17 and pursue my own path.  I became the first person in my extended family to ever study at the university level and the only one (so far) to earn a doctorate.  It helped that I was intellectually curious and enjoyed studying; but I was also determined to achieve financial independence as a woman.  Education was the essential tool to achieve that goal.

multi-faceted allium blossomMoving from Germany to the US as a young woman and being married at the time to a man from a different culture and race made me keenly aware of the influences of culture, race, and class.  I was usually the one person in class who asked about cross-cultural applications of concepts.  On top of that, I was a fierce feminist.  One of my psychology professors actually wrote to a famous feminist therapy professional because he did not know the answers to my questions!  I was often surprised when other students complained about a teacher after class but then never took the next step to discuss their issues directly with the professor.  What good is a critical, independent mind if you don’t follow up with actions that will change what you are unhappy with?

I had stood up to my priest, my parents, my teachers, and a culture that did not welcome me as part of an interracial couple.  I was independent, smart, angry, and fearless – and undoubtedly intimidating to many people.  But I also met a few people who took me under their wings and supported me.  Without them, I might have been forced to make much greater compromises.

While I have mellowed considerably since my early 20s, I still have a fiercely independent streak.    I can see through mass media indoctrination, advertising, fashion prescriptions, peer manipulations, and cultural and gender expectations…. and I haven’t had a boss in a long time.

However, independent thinking and living has its consequences and compromises as well.  Friends/acquaintances who are intimidated by my strong opinions or other manifestations of free thinking often fade away.  I feel lonely for my “tribe,” knowing full well that being part of a localized tribe would significantly diminish my personal independence.  My tribal members are scattered across the globe but thinking about them makes me feel grateful for their existence and the work they are doing in this complicated world of ours.

follow the leaderI am happy to have found my soulmate who is not threatened by my high level of independence. I am (mostly) willing to make the compromises that are necessary to be in an inter-dependent marriage.  It does take some juggling and jostling at times.

Partners

Partners

I realize that there are families and societies where an individual’s need for and assertion of high levels of independence can lead to ostracism, or worse.  I am lucky to live in an environment where I can pretty much get away with being who I want and need to be, although it doesn’t make me the most popular girl in town.  I also have the privilege of being white in a country that still struggles with institutionalized racism.

butterfly on thistleWhat about you?  How do you (or don’t you) get your needs for independence met?  What sacrifices do you make to keep the peace in your family or community?  What do you wish you could do or be if you were truly independent?

Ailsa’s Travel Theme this week is “Independence.”

About Beauty Along the Road

My name is Annette. I am passionate about nature, health, simplicity, self-reliance, truth, and life-long learning. Originally from Germany, I now live in Virginia, USA. I am a therapist, health coach, writer, photographer, and organic gardener.
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26 Responses to Independence

  1. Dear Annette, you really spoke out of my heart and also what I have gone through in my own life. Your post speaks to me…. as my mother always wanted me to be the girly girl, and mirror of her self, I was the rebel, but in a passive way, being afraid so much of her and her judgement, well have in mind I was raised very German. I travelled on my own in many different countries when I was younger , but was always being filled with that guilt that I couldn’t become the person mu mom wanted me to be. Once I broke the chains of everything by moving to the US, actually July 2nd , 25 years ago, the guilt became even more in not taking care of my mom in her age. After 25 years now, my mom passed 5 years ago, I finally feel free to live a life that suits me, in my own photography business and in my spiritual life as well. Well happy 4th, to some of us, to free ourselves towards a fulfilled life.

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  2. Wow Annette this is a thought provoking piece! I am embarrassed to say that I have never achieved independence. I was totally dominated as a sickly child and traumatised by being put in a children’s hospital for many months where I was very badle damaged. I’ve never really recovered and am so easily dominated that I have taken the cowardly path of becoming a loner who does not socialise much as my means of self protection. I know this is appalling as I am nearly 70 now and have wasted a lot of my life in anxiety and fear, but my blogging brings me a safe community where I feel I can reveal my true self without fear.

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    • That is quite a history. Have you written about it? I know a woman who was in a hospital for several years as a child, and it changed her personality and her social relationships entirely. She wrote an autobiography and is trying to get it published. Just the writing of it was very therapeutic. I am so sorry you had to experience that in your formative years. Glad you have your blog as an outlet. Thank you so much for sharing this, I feel honored.

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  3. Aggie says:

    Thank you for your story, Annette. So good to get to know you better.
    My parents and culture allowed my difference fairly well. The healing of what wounds there were haven’t occupied me for a long time.
    The chafing edge of personal independence for me now is to be independent of our culture, which I find to be diseased and unethical in so many ways. I want the freedom to eat food that is not harmful, to care for my health in the way I choose (e.g., no forced vaccines), to have clean water and air, and to use resources in a way that would sustain all of us rather than just a few. I do hope I can achieve this.

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    • Thank you, Aggie, for sharing your story. I am so glad for you that your parents were fairly accepting – it makes such a difference in how we are in the world. You added an important dimension that I didn’t really expand on and you know I care very much – freedom from pollution of our water, air, food and bodies by industrial agriculture, pharmaceutical industries and the corporate government superstructure. That deserves a very long post, indeed.

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  4. Thank you, Annette and you other ladies for sharing your stories! They can be very difficult for some to talk/write about. Like you, I’ve always been independent and a fierce feminist. Even to the point of childbearing and I just refused to accept that women had to go through that and the labor, haha. But I’ve had two lovely children and loved every moment of the pregnancies and the whole process. I hated that women were treated differently than men but I’ve learned to be more tolerant and a bit less outspoken. Sometimes my stubborn morals of right and wrong, black or white, would get me into trouble. But I’ve learned to be more compassionate and to see there can be some grays, too. I have a wonderful husband that allows our interdependent relationship to thrive wonderfully. Thank you, again. Many Blessings!

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    • Barbara – thank goodness for that mellowing process as we age. It’s hard to manage those youthful fiery emotions and they are often based on black & white thinking. I agree, more shades of grey are coming in (not always 50 of them, though). Happy to hear that you also have a great husband who is supportive of your independent spirit.

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  5. Barneysday says:

    Great story, Annette. The price of independence is often loneliness, or a feeling of tilting against the wind, but I’ve always said and strongly believe that the majority are usually wrong. Your life is a role model, not only for women, but for everyone who truly desires truth, knowledge, and attainment. Happy Independence Day to you in the truest sense of the word!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Maria F. says:

    I love the post Annette, very nice images and meanings.

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  7. batteredhope says:

    Your thoughts, your images were captivating. I have had to ‘buck’ the system my whole life; hence, why I wrote my memoir. I want to get to know you better. Thank you

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  8. Very profound post, Annette. Thanks for sharing your story with us. You’ve given me much to think about. When I was young, I “faked” independence, as I did with most of my fears of the unknown. No one really knew how fearful I was to be out in the world alone. It was something I wanted desperately, yet, I thought I had to put on a brave front and hide my insecurities and vulnerabilities because I thought they would make me appear weak.
    Now, that I have mellowed and aged, I’ve learned that although “faking” my independence and hiding my fears initiated me into a new world, my journey could only grow stronger when I confronted my fears and accepted them as part of my journey to independence. I still want to be fiercely independent, but I know my limitations and have learned to love myself for my strengths and my weaknesses.
    Your post touched me and made me think about our journeys through life. All different, yet in so many ways, very similar. Thanks for that, Annette.

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    • Thank you, Debbie. We are all somewhere on this pendulum of dependence/interdependence/independence at any given moment in time. And it changes in different life phases and with life experience. Sometimes, hiding the fear and doing it anyway is exactly the way to go; at other times, not addressing fears makes us less stable and strong. In any case, each life is interesting, even intriguing, to me and I’d love to do a series of interviews of “ordinary” people’s life experiences.

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  9. artofearth says:

    What an interesting life arc, Annette! I had this sense of you in our class, but knew very few of the details. I felt like I had to leave my own family tribe and area where I grew up; the cocoon was too small. And though I miss them and have good, if lonely, memories of a childhood spent outdoors with trees and insects and plants, I am ever grateful for the pressures. Without those, I would not have grown as I did. Often, it’s when we feel most comfortable that we need to push ourselves for independence from that comfort, so that we can keep growing. Thank you for sharing your story and your feelings around it. Kindest blessings!

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    • You are so right about those pressures and challenges that force us to develop greater resilience, perseverance, and independence. If life is too comfortable and overly protected, our growth tends to be much slower. Now you made me very curious about your story, Leigh….

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  10. I love your pictures and your writing! Wow independence and freedom. Something I am exploring right now at my age and trying to figure it out. So I love your ideas! Very amazing life you have lead!

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  11. I so understand feeling lonely for one’s “tribe.” To a large degree, I’ve found members through social media – here and elsewhere. I’ve often pondered the tendency people have to shrink from others who offer unpopular or controversial opinions on issues. How else do we learn or begin to consider the other side on anything if all we do is surround ourselves with like-minded people? I have dear friends, whom I absolutely love, who are polar opposites politically from one another. It’s okay, they have the right to believe as they do and I have the right to think they’re full of beans. It’s only one facet to their wonderful selves. And I very much enjoy being introduced to the various facets of yours.

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