By Cameron Chang

When are we willing to stop being for sale? There’s a common saying, “every person has his or her price.” So, what’s our price? Whether we are aware of it or not, we are always constantly, albeit innocently, giving ourselves away to things, subjecting ourselves to things. My price was always approval—that’s what I sold myself for. It still is sometimes. I’ve been fortunate enough to realize that now I have a choice (I actually always had a choice, I just didn’t know it). I had to learn a painful lesson, but it was the best lesson — to learn that I have a choice. To choose freedom. To choose myself.

My story went something like this: I would meet an attractive person or a person whom I admired, and I would start subtly trying to impress them, trying to win them over. Or I would be with a group of friends, and all of the sudden I would start acting like a completely different person. Saying anything to be “part of the group”. It worked for awhile — until it didn’t. I managed to get the right people on my side, except of course the people I couldn’t fool. Fooling myself — that was the easy part. My survival mechanism was fully fledged and my life seemingly well controlled.

But then I started to look around. I slowly began to notice something: something was off, not quite right. I started to feel empty. Over time I started to sense that my life was lacking the brightness, the freshness that it could have. I just couldn’t fool myself anymore — I had been living a lie. I felt like I was always faking it. Pretending was so exhausting. Completely miserable, I hit rock bottom, and in my worst moments, I felt like I wanted to die.

If it wasn’t for approval, then it was for security — “I can’t leave this job, what if I don’t get another?” or “I can’t leave this person because then I’ll have to be alone.” I was unconsciously allowing survival-based thought processes to guide my actions. I didn’t know then that I had a choice. I didn’t know that I could choose freedom, instead of defaulting to safety and control.

Of course, there was nothing wrong with choosing security over freedom. The majority of us choose the former much more often than the latter, and that’s fine. Until, of course, it’s not. Until it’s not fine that we’ve been completely miserable working the same dead end job for five years. Until it’s not fine that we’ve spent the better part of our lives wearing so much camoflage that we don’t even recognize ourselves anymore. Until it’s not fine that our spirit is so caged that the person we’ve become is just a hazy intimation of who we really are. But until then, it’s fine.

When it’s not fine is the best opportunity though. Hitting rock bottom, however uncomfortable and disorienting it may be, is actually one of the best things that can ever happen to a human being. It was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. Because our pain, our despondency, our dissatisfaction — it has the power to wake us up, to sober us up.

Waking up means we finally realize that we have a choice. Left to our blissful ignorance, we pretty much operate on autopilot, that is, we don’t really have a choice — we just react like we always have — thinking we’re choosing when we really just reacting. But once it starts to hurt too much — that’s when we begin to choose.

That’s what happened — my pain forced out of me the person I thought I was, the person I wanted to be. It woke me up out of a deep sleep. The sleep of being the person who desperately needed to be recognized, to be loved, to be appreciated. I had to confront the fact that every moment of life I have a choice and it was my responsibility to make it. Slowly I began to consciously choose not to sell myself. I chose to be awake. It was by far the most difficult period of my life. But it was life’s kindness to me. Because without pain, I wouldn’t have grown. I had to earn it.

When we begin to exercise choice, we become a very powerful being. A powerful being that is no longer subject to the whims of fear, desire and reaction. Fear, desire and reaction can still be there, but they no longer have the power to move us. Then we choose to move from love. We choose to not identify with our masks and our egos. We let our vulnerability, authenticity and intuition guide and move us.

Each time we say no to the temptation to sell ourselves, it builds us. Each time we say “I’ll pass,” it strengthens us. Each time we consciously choose, our light shines a little bit brighter. And then eventually it’s become second nature. That’s how you come to live without fear: you don’t get rid of fear, you simply stop choosing it. It’s the little choices.

The fact is: nobody can be you. You have to be you and I have to be me. There’s no other way. There’s no shortcut. There’s no secret. There’s no “how” to being yourself just like there’s no “how” to falling asleep — you just get out of the way. Show me the person you love and respect the most and I’ll show you a person who is uncomprimisingly themself. Those that have broken free; the beacons of the world, free from the mold, free from inhibition; we worship those people. We put their posters up on our walls. We admire them and secretly or not so secretly wish to shine like they do.

We can shine like they do too. We have to. Because what is life without that? If you come to learn to choose, like I have, then you can discover your own power for yourself. Then you don’t have to find it in celebrities, icons and idols. You’ve chosen yourself — and that’s made all the difference. That’s how you become your own savior, your own hero. That’s how you become a lighthouse for the rest of the world.

No, it’s not easy, but it’s simple. Nor is it for the faint of heart nor is it a guarantee. But it is an invitation; an invitation to explore a new way of being. Like any daring adventure or bold endeavor, the risks are obvious. That’s the whole point though, we can finally be free of needing guarantees, of needing promises. The only guarantee in life is that one day you will breathe your last breath, nothing else is certain.

In the end, what I came to realize was that I wasn’t even selling myself. Selling implies trading one commodity for equal or greater compensation. I was giving myself away — cheaply. These things: approval, security, control, fame, recognition, etc. — they’re empty. If we sell ourselves to them, we feel empty. Period. Or, we’re lucky enough (or have suffered enough) to realize we have a choice and we choose freedom.

Any moment we’re not for sale — we’re free. The rest of the world can go on dancing it’s dance. But we’re free — we’re simply not for sale.

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