July 4th... a holiday that for us expats means nothing more than a day off and fireworks. At least we understand it better than Memorial and Labor Day which we always mix up and for which we never remember the dates. They are almost as confusing as the conversion of Fahrenheit to Celsius or remembering how many ounces are in a pound (that equals roughly 500 grams). Are you still with me?
Independence Day is a day that was famously interpreted by a Hollywood movie that showed aliens taking over North America, full of heroic speeches and national colors. I personally am going sailing this 4th of July, in the company of a Canadian, a Dutch person, an Australian and probably another German. Are we feeling very independent? On the boat we sure will.
My own independence started when I decided to compete as a Modern Pentathlete on a national and later international level. At age 15 my sport allowed me to not rely on pocket money but make my own, at 18 I was provided with a car and even earlier I was flying across Germany and Europe, competing in various events. At age 17, I moved out of my parents' home and later moved cities to attend the German Sport University Cologne at age 19. Only three years after that I landed in JFK and in 2006 moved continents permanently to work and live in New York City. I suppose this makes me a nomad.
In all the moving around, I always cherished my independence without being rebellious. I acknowledged a certain loneliness that came with it and celebrated new connections that I made along the way. At a time when my childhood bestie had her second baby, I dove deep into the diplomatic belly of the United Nations and now that she welcomed her third, I finished my certification in pre/post natal training and am working with mothers and mothers-to-be in Brooklyn.
Most people that I have met in NY, did not grow up here, they came for work, for a relationship, because this city fascinated them and with moving here they usually made a big step towards independence and self-reliance. But why is it so important?
- Being socially dependent means placing a higher value on other peoples' opinions than on one's own. That means that no decision is ever made without a potential for regret, guilt or self deprecation.
- Being intellectually dependent means that instead of forming our own idea of what we believe, we follow a religion, a government, an ideology, etc. As a German national, I am too painfully aware of what can happen when ideology takes over a whole nation.
- Being financially dependent can have detrimental consequences when that source of income is suddenly disconnected by the person providing for us but more importantly the financial dependence on a job that we don't enjoy can kill all creativity, joy and sense of fulfillment in us, causing anxiety, fear and depression.
- And finally co-dependence: a word that has recently been used more and more. It used to be a term to describe the immediate relatives of a person with an addiction but has lately also been a popular term for the unhealthy relationship with people who aren't good for us, negative people, or as I call them 'energy vampires'. Need I say more?
Being independent, consequently means being in charge of your life. It means being true to yourself, taking care of your life and making decisions wholeheartedly. It is not an easy task. It can be simpler to lean on others and most of the time, good friends and family will let you. But a true sense of accomplishment and identity comes with independence and listening to that one inner voice as opposed to the several.
I dare you to try it! Happy Independence Day!