True freedom in life and education: doing what you really want

Something I really started thinking about when I was unschooling high school was the nature of true freedom. Basically, I came to the conclusion that lack of restrictions was not enough: to be truly free we need to know the truth and be able to do what we truly want deep down inside.

Years later I came across a quote that seemed to really express this idea. When I spoke at my first big unschooling conference, Rethinking Education in Dallas, Texas, Barb Lundgren gave me her book of Mindful Quotations. This was one of my favorites:

Men are not free when they are doing just what they like … Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes, and there is getting down to the deepest self! It takes some diving. -D. H. Lawrence

It takes some diving indeed! I was thinking about the need to really be free on the inside while I was unschooling high school. But it wasn’t until years later after lots travel, searching, life lessons, and getting to know myself that I began to fully understand this concept.

As a teen my eyes really started to open up to the world when I was about 15 years old. First I read an amazing book called Lies My Teacher Told Me: What American History Textbooks Got Wrong by James Loewen. This and many other books and people, especially Noam Chomsky, made clear to me that the world view we are normally given leaves a lot out and includes many lies.

I realized the world is a much more terrible and wonderful place than I ever thought.

I also realized that school was lying to me and wasting my time and energy when I could be finding out the truth. That was a major part of my motivation to leave school when I discovered homeschooling and unschooling.

What confused me was people could leave school and could find the truth in many books and magazines readily available at their local state run library! So how come they didn’t free themselves and find out the truth? On some level, it seems they weren’t free on the inside.

Of course, I think they would be freer on the inside if they hadn’t spent so much of their lives with so little outward freedom while in school: outward oppression tends to seep into the depths of who we are. Eventually, even when the outward restrictions are taken away many people won’t bother to make use of their freedom.

I’ve noted before how doing healing work was a big part of my unschooling experience during high school. Again: even if you understand a lot of the politics of the world you can’t do what you want and be free if you have deep emotional wounds controlling your actions – consciously or not.

So healing was part of my “diving” down to my true self. You could say unschooling in high school and my years of traveling and worldschooling has been largely about diving further down to my true self. It has been a journey!

And the journey continues, but I definitely eventually reached a turning point where I finally feel like I’m doing what I truly want. I’m following my purpose. It’s scary to use that word!: Purpose. But I do think writing about unschooling, homeschooling and education, doing my own traveling, and sharing travel with others through my Worldschool Travel Tours and my writing is what I’m meant to be doing.

It doesn’t mean it’s easy! It doesn’t mean I know exactly how or what to write about all the time. It doesn’t mean I know how or what countries to lead travel tours to. I just know I’m going in the right direction.

And when I really reflect I realize I am happy. I am doing what I really want. And I am free.


17 Responses to “True freedom in life and education: doing what you really want”

  1. Hannah says:

    Love it! Finding your purpose (it is kind of a scary word) is a great accomplishment even if it changes, knowing who and what you are right now is awesome!
    Also I really like that you brought up the difference between doing what you want on the surface and doing what you want/need on a deeper level. I think that’s really important to remember on this unschooling journey
    Looking forward to reading more from you and about your travels…

  2. Idzie says:

    Wonderful post! I feel it’s really relevant for me personally, since I guess that’s really what I feel like I’m working on right now… Finding my true purpose, or more accurately perhaps, finding out what to DO with my true purpose!

  3. Bonnie says:

    Great post Eli! I’ve struggled with this in the past year or so, because I was doing what I wanted in an immediate sense but ignoring the things I needed on a deeper level. There’s a delicate balance, and I think finding that is really what the teen/young adult years are supposed to be about. I’ve always tried hard to follow my intuition, because I feel like that’s the part of me that knows what I need. Unfortunately much of society, and particularly school, is designed to squash intuition, and I think that’s why so many people have this nagging sense of feeling empty or lost.

    I like the idea that unschooling is about more than just doing what’s fun. Not to say that most unschoolers just play all the time – there’s a much deeper meaning to unschooling as a philosophy – but I think it’s easy for new people to get that impression. It’s so hard for people to break out of the box of “either it’s fun or you have to be forced to do it.” Some things that don’t seem “fun” on the surface can be deeply fulfilling, but it’s hard to see that when you’ve been told all your life that work is involuntary and play is voluntary and that’s all there is.

  4. Ren says:

    Interesting topic. I think “purpose” can be such a burdensome thing. In the words of Amy Steinberg “the purpose of life is to live”.
    I think you’ve hit on something very important about healing. One can not truly know what one wants if there are deep wounds. I too, had much healing to work through before I could really “dive down”.
    It’s definitely an ongoing thing….healing and doing what you love (because seasons of life bring different needs/desires to the forefront) and that eternal expanding outward, then inward etc… Great post!

  5. Eli Gerzon says:

    Thank you all for the wonderful comments!

    @Hannah Yeah, it’s very easy for us all to forget about what’s going on below the surface even or especially inside ourselves. Unschooling gives us the chance and responsibility to be the ones who have to look deeper to what we need/really want.

    @Idzie That’s wonderful Idzie. And yeah, a big part of it figuring out the specifics for yourself even when you have the general idea of what you’re meant to do. Writing about unschooling definitely seems to be part of your purpose! I really liked your post about welcoming:

    @Bonnie I really like your point about getting beyond the “Either it’s fun or you have to be forced to do it.” dichotomy. It’s about using your freedom for more than just fun: using it to find deep joy and fulfillment through living out our purpose.

    It is so often hard to remember to follow your own intuition. But it totally seems like you’re on the path to discovering what you really want. I loved this post of yours: “Shit Happens. Even to Unschoolers.”: And I look forward to reading more and hearing how things are going!

    @Ren Purpose can be a burdensome thing! Like you say, some people’s purpose is very open: to live their life. I’ve just found that without more direction I don’t feel like I’m really living my life! So for me purpose is an important thing.

    It seems like a lot of unschooling parents have gone through a lot of healing to get to the point where they were free enough to choose to unschool their kids.

    And as Ren and Hannah implied things can definitely change. In the end you go on what you can at this time and season and continue to dive down and check in with yourself!

  6. Cheryl says:

    (Edited from Facebook:) Doing what you want as you grow up is so important. It is likely to teach you how to continue doing what you want as an adult, and you’ll be more likely to carve a living out of it. On the other hand, if you grow up learning that you “can’t always do what you… want”–and you’re rarely allowed freedom to explore what you might like to do–you will be much more likely to accept misery in a job that *isn’t* what you want. How many adults love their lives and their jobs? How many accept *not* having what they want as “normal” because that’s what they grew up with? A large percentage of grown unschoolers seem to love their lives and what they do–because that’s what they’re used to and they learn not to settle for less. Great post, Eli!

  7. Bonnie says:

    One thing I want to add to this discussion too is that “purpose” doesn’t necessarily have to be serious, world-saving stuff. The word has become loaded in that way, but purpose can also be something more lighthearted. Purpose is the thing that keeps calling you and nagging at you if you’re not doing it. For me, music, dance, and working with kids are all part of my “purpose”. I feel like I’m missing something if those things aren’t in my life. In the same way I think travel is part of Eli’s purpose, makeup and fashion are part of Ren’s purpose, etc. To me finding your purpose simply means finding the things your life wouldn’t feel complete without, and honoring your need to do those things. That sounds like a no-brainer for people who know what they want, but not everyone does. Some people have this nagging sense of feeling incomplete and aren’t sure why, and that’s where the digging comes in.

    • Idzie says:

      YES I agree with you on this 100% Bonnie, and I love the way you put it!

    • Eli Gerzon says:

      I agree: really well said Bonnie. Thank you.

      And exactly: it doesn’t have to be super serious stuff. The word purpose does have a lot of heaviness attached to it and it doesn’t have to.

      Travel and writing are definitely two things for me that do just that: nag at me after awhile if I don’t do them and then I feel really fulfilled after I do.

  8. Cheryl says:

    Have you ever heard John Taylor Gatto talk about the “trapped flea principle”? If you put a bunch of fleas in a petri dish and put a lid on it, they will jump over and over, banging themselves against the lid, trying to get out. If you leave the lid there long enough, eventually you will be able to take it off and they will keep jumping, but only as high as where the lid *used* to be. They will learn to impose the limitation on themselves. The lid is no longer needed. Gatto argues that that is what school does to children, and this is why most people don’t fight.

    • Eli Gerzon says:

      I didn’t know that Gatto referred to it but I was thinking of that exact example! It is a perfect illustration of the phenomenon. Thanks for sharing it!

  9. Maria says:

    This was such a wonderful post and also all your comments are so insightsful and wonderful! I don’t know if all of you people are unschoolers, but reading this (and your blog in general Eli) really makes me so glad for having chosen unschooling for my children.
    I thought of a couple of things. First I thought about a similar story to the flies in a jar that I’v heard several times. Obviously you teach baby elephants to stay in one place by tieing-up one of their legs to a pole so they only can walk around that. When they get older and you take away the chain, they continue to only walk as long around the pole as they’ve learnt all their life. I heard there was a fire once in a circus and elephants who came loose from their chain didn’t leave the burning tents because they “couldn’t” go further than the chain had allowed them to so they got killed by the fire! I do think this could be a metafor for the school system as well, and just not the school system. How many of us (yes, I guess me too in some situations) are tied to that chain that someone put on us and we think we cant walk further then the lenght of it. So I’m constantly working on cutting my chains and getting far away from my poles 🙂
    I also thought about “purpose” which I agree, can be a rather demanding word. I like how people like Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson defines it: “The purpose of life is to be happy”.

    • Eli Gerzon says:

      Thank you Maria! Yes, I’m so happy with the thoughtful comments too! Thanks for the other example about the elephants: that’s an example about an animal we usually think of as being very intelligent. Shows how restrictions can affect even the smart ones. Like you say, we all still need to work on getting rid of those invisible restrictions we place on ourselves.

      And all the comments so far are from unschoolers in their teens or twenties, or unschooling moms. I’m really excited you’re not only unschooling but also travelling so much with your family! They are going to have a literally world class education I’m sure.

      Interesting that this “purpose” word and idea seems to be more embraced by the generation of unschoolers: but the parents seem to be less comfortable with it!

  10. Cindy says:

    OMG Eli! Thank you SO much for your voice! I knew it would probably have to come from the unschoolers themselves in order to really start new conversations to progress the continuum of knowledge about learning along. Some years ago, when I first came on-line, I was called “dangerous” because I said I was a long-time unschooler, who wanted to question certain things as my children were showing me things that didn’t line up with the typical unschooling dogma.

    I wonder if the adults in the unschooling world are busy creating Truth, but those living the unschooled life are more likely to embrace Truth, whatever that looks like.

    This whole post and comments, especially Bonnie’s!, have got me twirling around with thoughts, so I guess I need to create a post with all my thoughts! I’ll link to this post.

    One further comment about what Bonnie says here about purpose: “Purpose is the thing that keeps calling you and nagging at you if you’re not doing it.” I think that’s actually a perfect definition of “passion”. Many of my workshops lately have been about “finding one’s passion and purpose”, as that is what my unschooling lifestyle centers around as I collaborate with my children in helping them discover for themselves what that is in their own life. Purpose, to me, is “doing something meaningful with one’s passion”. I think we humans crave both passion and purpose in our life. Thus, why so many adults are unhappy in their life, or go through a mid-life crisis.

    Thank you again for this AMAZING conversation! Woohoo!

  11. Aaron says:


    I met you a couple of years ago at the same “Rethinking Education” conference in Dallas. I happen to have created a Google Alert for the phrase “trapped flea” about six months ago and it popped up today (one of the few times it has) and led me to your blog.

    I’m now teaching a class on helping high school students find their “passion,” or “purpose,” or “calling,” or “gift,” or “core nature,” or (as Sir Ken Robinson calls it in his new book) their “element.”

    I agree with D.H. Lawrence’s observation that there is some diving to be done. Sometimes I make the analogy between what my students are doing and the work of a crime scene investigator. They are their own Sherlock Holmes looking for clues, digging through the tracks laid by their young lives searching for hints.

    It’s pretty engaging and we explore the games they have enjoyed especially when they were younger and more of their time was uninterrupted, more of their own. We explore the gifts they have enjoyed giving and sharing with the people in their lives.

    The one thing I might add is an equally astute observation made by Neil Postman in his book, “The End of Education.” He points out that significance and meaning come about when our learning aligns with a “grand narrative” that guides and motivates us. Postman, as does Loewen and Chomsky and others, unambiguously argues that the grand narrative of contemporary culture and perhaps the entirety of Western Civilization is rapidly coming apart.

    In any event, I heartily support your quest, your travel, your shepherding youngsters beyond the comfort of their smaller worlds. I also greatly enjoyed our late night conversations and trust that some day our paths will cross again.



  12. Whoop whoop! So glad you followed me on twitter so I could in turn, discover you and your blog! You are so insightful, Eli.

    I coach people on the very broad subjects of personal success, happiness and financial freedom and what I find, time after time, is restrictive thinking that blocks them and their actions. It can be difficult to alter a mindset, to convince them that it IS possible to venture away from the pole; to jump out of the petri dish, and follow their passions.

    And this is one BIG reason why I’ve chosen to unschool my young daughter.

    I hope you are still offering Worldschool Tours when she is old enough. In the meantime, we have plans of our own to worldschool and roadschool together as a family.

    I am adding your blog to my resources page (under Lifestyles).

    Would you be interested in doing a Q&A on my blog?

    Keep up the great work!

  13. Eli Gerzon says:

    I’m so glad you all, Cindy, Aaron, and Jen found this post and left such awesome comments! Sorry it’s taken me a bit to respond.

    @Cindy To “dangerous” parents! Keep questioning! I like how you define purpose as “doing something meaningful with one’s passion”. That’s exactly what it’s been about for me: meaning.

    And exactly trying to find what that is can be a full time job for a long time.

    @Aaron amazing to reconnect with you! There are some pictures of the group of us on Facebook I should tag you in! You (or anyone!) can friend me here

    I like how you put it: like a detective searching for clues. Investigating to find ourselves.

    And you make a really good point: it’s not just about YOU and your self. It’s about how it fits into the big picture. My purpose, my passion, what I really want is largely affected by what the world needs.

    Often they are viewed as conflicting things but I think when you do enough diving they can be the same thing.

    And thank you for the encouragement with my tours. I hope our paths cross again too.

    @Jen I’m so glad I found you on Twitter and you found my blog too. And first of all I’d love to do a Q&A on your blog! And thanks for adding my blog to your site.

    Yes, it seems like mental blocks really are often the greatest obstacles to creating happiness and financial freedom. That’s why I’m so excited about unschoolers: working with them directly and them just being in the world. It gives me hope.

    And I’m so glad you’ve made that connection and are unschooling your child! Often people are doing amazing work with adults but don’t question something as basic and life shaping as school.

    Not everything is solved by just unschooling. But it opens up amazing possibilities.

    Thanks again for the great comments everyone. I’m definitely thinking about doing a post specifically about purpose… on purpose. This time it was more an offhand remark at the end that apparently people are interested in. That was a little surprising: a good surprise.

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