Audit your obligations.

We like to think we’re free.

Don’t we?

Free to choose our path, pursue our dreams, and be who we want to be.

But for most of us, that freedom is an illusion.

We’re so tied up in the shit that we don’t want to do, the shit we trapped ourselves into, that our freedom is long gone.

So much of what we do each day is out of a sense of obligation—obligations to our egos, our friends, our employers, and our communities. We have to work on that side hustle we stopped caring about months ago, finish that project for the boss, and attend that neighbourhood meeting. The list goes on.

Some of our obligations are necessary and important.

They reflect our values and responsibilities to those we care about.

Our families, the people we love, and the people we live for.

But others, if we’re honest, are self-imposed.

We volunteer for that extra work assignment, agree to head up that charity drive, and sign up for that class we don’t really have time for. We say yes to social commitments we’re too tired to face — with people we’re too tired to see. We’re overcommitting, taking on more and more.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Fear, often.

Fear of missing out, letting down others, not measuring up to some impossible—even imagined—standard. We’re afraid that if we say no, we’ll be judged, we’ll fall behind, and we’ll close doors. So we say yes, again and again, until we’re stretched thin and exhausted.

But every time we say yes to something we don’t want or need to do, we’re saying no to something else.

We're saying no to time for ourselves, no to our true passions, no to our kids, no to our partners, no to space to breathe and just be.

We’re putting on shackles of our own making.

So what’s the solution?

Prioritize ruthlessly. Take a hard look at your obligations and ask yourself: Which are essential? Which reflect my deepest values and make the most impact? Which brings me joy and fulfilment?

Keep those, and start saying no to the rest.

It’s not easy.

It takes a lot of courage to disappoint people.

To not be everything to everyone.

But it’s non-negotiable if we want to be truly free — free to focus on what matters most, to excellently do a few important things instead of many half-hearted ones, and to chart our own unique path.

Every so often, take an inventory. Look at where your time and energy are going. Are they aligned with your true north, your deepest values and aspirations? Or have you gotten off track, weighed down by a hundred small obligations you’ve picked up along the way?

Deciding what to shed is hard. To an extent, putting other people’s needs before your own is part of being human. Total selfishness is not the goal.

Part of the bargain we make through commitment is belonging to a family, a workplace, or a society.

And you shouldn’t attempt to abandon that.

We’ve evolved to belong.

But we can’t belong to everyone, everywhere, all at once.

If we don’t periodically pause and reassess, the balance can tip too far. We can wake up one day and realize we’ve lost ourselves and our way, becoming prisoners of our own overcommitment and people-pleasing.

Take an inventory. Decide what to keep and what to let go. Remove a few links from those invisible chains. Free yourself to fly higher, shine brighter, and be more fully you.

If you’re feeling shackled and weary, try it.

Audit your obligations.

Be brave enough to drop the ones that are holding you back.

Then celebrate that new lightness of being, that reclaimed slice of freedom. And remember this: happiness isn’t having no ties, it’s choosing your knots with intention.

#DIY eBook


#DIY is about doing what you want and doing it your way. It’s the antithesis of gatekeeper culture and the only path forward for the creator economy. In #DIY, writer Joan Westenberg offers advice for indie creators in the digital era through ideas, anecdotes, and essays.

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