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A few years back, I had a conversation with my son about values. I wanted to know what he valued as a person, and I wanted to think about what I valued. It was at a time when I was beginning to wonder if values were even a thing anymore. It had become suddenly important to me to pin my own down.

We both gave it a lot of thought and shared our ideas and even prioritized them in an effort to see what motivated our actions (or what, ideally, would motivate our actions). I’m not going to share his or all of mine because those are private matters, but I’ll tell you that I realized in those moments that, for me, freedom is the highest value.

The way I see it, freedom is a necessary condition for any other value. Values as I see them, are the dictates of your conscience, and conscience is based on the idea of free will. Being able to adopt values, prioritize them, and act on them requires freedom first and foremost.

Ideally, we behave in ways that are aligned with our values, but if we never take time to think about what we value, it’s easy to fall into auto-pilot. When that happens, we’re subject to making decisions based on outside pressures rather than our personal principles. It’s easy to become aimless and eventually apathetic because we begin to lose sight of the individual authority that we have and allow others to become the arbiters of our daily existence.

Once I recognized freedom as my highest value, I had to evaluate whether my decisions were in alignment with that ideal. I had to ask myself if I was acting like a free person or if I was basing decisions on other values instead, values like security or comfort or convenience.

That was about the time my family and I made the radical decision to begin to work towards a lifestyle that would be the most free we could imagine – as wanderers. Living on a boat would free us from a lot of financial limitations, but we didn’t have the means to buy an “off the shelf” boat. Instead, we took a gamble on a dilapidated sailboat, my husband’s ingenuity, and my own ability to fund the renovations as a writer. We moved aboard before the boat was finished, which was as uncomfortable and inconvenient as you can imagine, but that freed us up to appreciate less more.

The year and a half since we made those decisions have been the most grueling and terrifying of my life. They’ve also been the most gratifying and liberating. I feel more aligned with my values than I ever have, and I feel closer to real freedom, too.