The Tension Between Freedom and Safety

Life often presents a choice between safety and freedom.

Does it seem as if everyone you know is following the same pattern for their lives? If so, you might feel pressured into following the same formula. But you can’t let go of the feeling that there’s a different approach out there — and it might offer you everything you’ve ever wanted.

Life often presents a choice between safety and freedom. It may seem that society wants you to err on the side of safety and conformity, but you get to choose the balance that’s best for you.

Freedom and Safety in a Dog Collar

When I consider the balance between freedom and safety, I start thinking about a dog collar. It makes for a great illustration of the freedom vs safety tension.

cute puppy wearing a collar

On the one hand, a collar and a license are the highest honors that a person can bestow on a dog. These things say “You belong.”

There are privileges that come with that belonging. A family dog can count on being fed regularly. She might have a fenced yard where she can safely raise her puppies.

A dog with a license and a collar doesn’t worry about being hauled away to the pound. There isn’t the ever-present fear of someday getting scooped up and taken away, only to be put down.

It might seem that having the collar is the only desirable way for a dog to live. But looking at it from a different perspective, that’s not exactly the case.

A dog without a collar doesn’t have the safety and security of belonging to a family. What he does have, though, is the freedom to live however he chooses. Not being tied to a family means that he can decide what his life will look like every day.

He can eat whatever he wants — or at least, whatever he can find. He can go where he wants to go, including far beyond the neighborhoods of cookie-cutter houses with fenced-in yards.

As long as this dog can stay out of the grip of the dogcatcher, he has the freedom to make his life whatever he wants it to be.

Freedom, Safety, and the Masculine vs Feminine Archetypes

The legendary characters in the stories we tell often want to make names for themselves. They don’t all go about it in the same way though. Often, our primary characters fit into one of two archetypes: masculine or feminine.

The masculine archetype involves striving for immortality through accolades. A character who fits this archetype wants his name written in the stars. He goes on a heroic journey to become a legend.

The female archetype also has a heroic objective, but this type of character approaches it in a different way. She wants immortality through her DNA. She wants to achieve it by having a family and a baby.

In our heroic stories, there’s often a tension at play between these two archetypes. Will the hero choose between going off and living a life of legend? Or will the hero stay put, giving up the life of a legend, but having the family and achieving DNA immortality?

The ancient heroes usually said, “No, thank you. I’m going to go live my legendary life.” That’s why we remember them as heroes now.

But in our more modern stories, a better balance is often presented. Disney movies and other such tales may show the tension between the masculine and feminine archetypes.

Sometimes the feminine one wins out. The characters wrap up their story by settling down and making babies. And in the end, one character ends up proving himself to the other by protecting those babies.

Now, please note that this is about masculine and feminine archetypes and not male and female roles. These characterizations are descriptive, not prescriptive. All women don’t necessarily have a journey to make babies and keep the men in their lives from going out and becoming legends.

That’s not the benefit of understanding masculine vs feminine archetypes. Rather, these archetypes are useful because they provide a framework for understanding the tension between freedom and safety.

Freedom vs Safety in Business

This tension between freedom and safety can show up in our professional lives too. This dichotomy mirrors the decision you might be facing between having a regular job and starting a business.

There’s a transition period that you go through when you decide to leave behind your life as an employee and venture into starting your own business.

A job provides a sense of security. There are regular hours and a steady paycheck. Being an employee brings benefits like insurance and a 401k.

When you start to raise the idea of becoming an entrepreneur, the world around you might say, “But you can’t not have insurance. You need that 401k!”

Becoming a freelancer necessarily means forgoing some of that security. You’ll no longer have the safety net of knowing that someone else is going to supply you with your workload.

Entrepreneurship and freelancing call you to develop a new skill set: finding the people who want what you have to offer. Such a lifestyle involves showing up, over and over again, and vulnerably saying, “Here’s what I do. Would you like it?”

So, yes, there’s a tradeoff. Leaving behind the employee lifestyle means letting go of a certain type of security. But if you can take the plunge, you’ll find a sense of freedom that the 9-to-5 grind can never supply.

Freedom and Safety in Everyday Society

In addition to the masculine vs feminine archetypes, there’s another trope that often comes up in myths. It’s the tension between the overbearing nature of societal structure and the desire for freedom.

You can see it in a story like The Little Mermaid. There’s conflict between King Triton and his daughter Ariel. The king wants Ariel to conform to his vision for her and what their society expects, and Ariel wants to experience freedom and have adventures. She goes off and does that in direct contradiction to her father’s wishes.

This trope appears in Lady and the Tramp too. The dog Lady wants to live her life, but Aunt Sarah shows up and tries to restrict her. She’s strict with the rules, such as no dogs on the furniture, and she expects life to follow a definite pattern. Aunt Sarah even puts a muzzle on Lady. In response, Lady ends up running away.

My coaching clients often talk about experiencing a similar tension. They believe that there is a “right” way to do things. Such beliefs keep them trapped in a box as though there’s only one way to live in society. They start to think, “If only I can figure out the right way to do things, then everything will be okay.”

But, deep down, they want to live life their own way. They don’t want oppression. They want freedom.

Freedom of the Mind

In many ways in our world, we have a lot of expressed freedoms. But there are some areas in which conformity is fully expected of us. If we don’t conform to certain types of actions, then we won’t be allowed to participate in society.

When we start to think that we want more freedom than we have, we can set ourselves up for unrealistic expectations and begin to experience a lot of strife.

Sometimes my wife and I find ourselves stuck in this tension. One thing that helps us in those moments is something that Viktor Frankl said in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl, a trained psychotherapist, was a prisoner during the Holocaust.

There’s a beautiful moment in his book in which he talks about marching out for labor one day. It was cold. His shoes were worn through.

He started thinking about his wife. At that time, he didn’t know if she was alive or dead, but just the thought of her brought him pleasure.

Frankl looked up and there was a beautiful sunrise. There, in the depths of one of the most horrific human experiences, he still had the freedom to choose what he ultimately did with his mind.

image of a sunrise

So remember Viktor Frankl when you’re wishing that things were different and you had more control in some aspects of your life. At the end of the day, nobody can take away from you how you use your mind and what you choose to put your energy toward.

Where is Your Freedom vs Safety Balance?

I want you to know that there isn’t necessarily a “right” way of being.

Just as there are for a dog with a collar and a license, there are pros and cons to having a secure, predictable life. There are also pros and cons to setting out on your own and having the freedom to do things your way.

In your life, there is going to be tension between safety and security on one side and freedom, adventure, and legendary experiences on the other side. But you can figure out for yourself where the correct balance lies for you.

Acknowledging that this tension exists equips you to make intentional choices about it. You get to design your life the way that you want it to be.

Safety and freedom, family and heroic adventures, job security and entrepreneurship, societal norms and life your way: In each of these areas, you get to determine what a harmonious balance looks like for you.
Latest posts by (see all)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *