On Free Spirits

Todd Smidt by Todd Smidt

“A lot won’t understand you and that’s okay.”
Nikki Rowe



Until recently I’d never once thought of myself as a “free spirit”.  To me, the free spirits were the people I met on the cruise ship, the people backpacking around the world for years at a time, the people walking around Burning Man completely naked.

There’s nothing wrong with any of those people or with being a free spirit.  It was just never a label I would have given to myself.  I’d say I plan too much to be a free spirit.  For awhile I thought those two things were mutually exclusive.  But that’s not the case.  Being a free spirit doesn’t mean you don’t make plans it means you don’t let anything stand in the way of your plans.

I realized now a free spirit is just the name for someone who isn’t afraid to do their own thing.  They don’t worry about asking for permission because they know they’re going to do it anyway.  They don’t stop to think how something may look to others because they follow their heart regardless of appearance.  They don’t spend time worrying how their grandkids will pay for college because they’re too busy figuring out how to unicycle to get an ice cream cone. It’s not just that they go with the flow; they create the flow.  Free spirits are those among us who thrive on passion and innovation.

Being a free spirit is a choice.  For the first part of my life I fell into the trap of having to plan out and justify every one of my actions.  Only things that were going to help out the future Todd were things on which I could I justify spending time doing.  I would only do something if I thought it would help secure the future to which I thought I was entitled.  Not exactly the poster child for a free spirit.

The planning wasn’t the problem.  The problem was I began to live only for the future.  I’d tell myself that I’d have time to take that trip or talk to that girl… later.  I’d be able to quit my job and move to the coast but needed just one more paycheck.  But the day for action conveniently never came.

We all fall into routine.  Don’t get me wrong, routine isn’t a bad thing until it leads to wishing away your entire life.  We end up sacrificing so much of the now in the hopes of giving our future selves exactly what we think they’ll want.  The most fucked up part is that we have no clue what we’ll want in the future.  If you would have asked my 22 year old self where I’d be at 26, I guarantee his answer would have involved law school and marriage.  Not traveling.  Not writing. Which shows we have no clue what we’ll want in the future.

Somewhere along the way, I started putting way more emphasis on doing as much as I could before it was too late.  I stopped choosing to do the things others wanted me to do and started only pursuing things that inspired me.  Once you start living like that it’s hard to stop.

To be completely honest, I’m terrified that if I don’t do something right away I’ll never do it.  I’m not an anxious person, but once I find something I want to do, I feel trapped if I don’t make plans to do it right then and there.  This fear, irrational or not, is what compelled me to quit my job and travel.  It’s what made me buy a ticket to Burning Man before I knew anything about it. It’s why I moved to Dolni Bousavand hoped for the best.

“Sometimes you’ve got to be able to listen to yourself and be okay with no one else understanding.”
One for Sorrow, Christopher Barzak

I live in constant fear of regretting all of the things I didn’t do; of missing opportunities that could change my life.  It’s the reason why when someone asks me to do something I shrug my shoulders and say “you know, I don’t say no to much” before agreeing and jumping in with both feet.  The best part of saying yes to something is you never know where that choice will take you or who it’ll bring into your life.

This fear has been the driving force behind everything I’ve done for the past few years.  So many people delay things because the “timing wasn’t right” yet never go back to do them, and that’s not the type of person I want to be.  I became a free spirit out of fear and necessity more than a conscious desire.

Oddly enough, this fear led to my freedom. It became easier and easier to take the road less traveled. I don’t know exactly when it happened (my guess is after is moving to Europe to be an au pair but before moving to Melbourne on a whim with no real plan), but at some point my actions were accepted and even expected.  It became my M.O. to do random stuff that few of my friends would do.

Once you get a reputation as a “free spirit,” “vagabond,” “eccentric,” or whatever label you want to use, it’s a license to do whatever you want.  People start to treat you different.  They judge you less and accept you more.  They start to confess things to you about their life because you inspire them to take the leap.  You show them that the only “right” way to live is in pursuit of their dreams.

“It’s an amazing thing when you finally settle in to knowing you’ll never fit in. The difference between the rest of the world and you; you feel too much about too many things. And most others feel not enough, about too few. Keep standing out. Keep showing the crowd what beautifully flying free is all about.”  J. Raymond

A lot of people didn’t agree with my decision to quit my job to go work on a cruise ship.  But by the time I left for Europe, it was a foregone conclusion I was going to keep traveling.  To some, it’s odd for a grown man to dress in a tutu, but somehow no one was surprised when they saw me in mine.  People stare blankly at me for taking a month off to go to Asia, until they realize it’s me, then it seems to be fine.  If you give them the chance the right people will accept you for who you are so you might as well become the person you want to be.

For the longest time, I didn’t put this together.  As I alluded to before, until recently I never considered myself a free spirit.  Then in a very short period of time I was called out for being one and came across an article on Soul Anatomy about why the corporate world needs free spirits.   

As I read the article, I found myself realizing that each of the reasons was directly applicable to me.

  • Free Spirits are masters at bringing their passion to everyday life.
  • Free Spirits thrive on innovation.
  • Free Spirits are independent.
  • Free Spirits put real meaning into buzzwords, they make abstractions practical.
  • Free Spirits prioritize human connectedness.

All of a sudden everything sort of clicked.  My natural eccentricness and desire to live the life I want to turned me into something I didn’t expect- a free spirit with the ability to inspire others.

This mindset has allowed me to make an impact on those around me simply by being myself.  To say things others won’t.  To write about my feelings and experiences.  Most importantly, to be free enough to help others do the same.

A friend asked me what I want most out of life.  After thinking about it I told him, “I don’t want very much. I’ve never really been a possessions guy.  I want to keep traveling and writing.  I really want to be the type of person whose presence gives others the excuse they may need to be 100% unapologetically themselves.”  If they need an excuse to wear a tutu, walk around barefoot, or hammock in the park I’m more than happy to be that excuse.  Nikki Rowe said it best ““I just want to live in a way that either wakes people up or shakes people up. Whether I have opened a wound or opened a heart, I have touched a life and helped bring a change.”

Stay Gold.

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