What’s Holding Us Back?

If you were to be living out your dreams, at this very moment—

Where would you be?


In Louisa Alcott’s novel, “Little Women,” there is a very sentimental scene where the four sisters and their friend are describing their personal ‘castles.’ By ‘castles,’ they meant their greatest aspirations—where they hoped to be in the future, and what they most dreamed of doing. Most of them were far-fetched, seeing as they were ‘poor’ folk. Nonetheless, they dreamed of it, and…

I don’t know.

I just can’t help wondering, every day, what the world would be like if everybody were living in their castles? The world would be a better place, one would assume. Well—if I were living in my castle, I would be stopping to talk to anyone who feels unsatisfied or dejected, no matter their outward appearance. I would not let the sight of rags stop me, nor the flash of tear-shielding screens. I would be on the road, delivering letters anonymously in hopes of cheering strangers up. I would be cleaning streets, parks, and lawns of all trash, and spreading words of kindness, educating others—especially children—on how precious this Earth of ours is. I would be in so many places in this one castle of mine.

But now and again, I also wonder; what exactly is holding me back?

What is holding me back from living in my castle, this very moment? I know, many would say that the only thing keeping me from my castle is myself. Though, I really do wonder; if I didn’t have to worry about going to school every day in order to get into a good college, to get a good job, to earn money to ‘live,’ then I would be chasing my castle right now. I believe I really would. Or, at the very least, I’d be living some more alternative, hippie lifestyle. A freer lifestyle.

After analyzing these aspirations of mine, I’ve come to the conclusion that what I wish for with all my head, heart, and soul, is to be—that’s right.


It’s such a loose term, I know. So, I have crafted a personal working definition on what it means to be free:

“The ability to pursue one’s dreams without fear of consequence, or hindrance of self-despising spirit.”

Perhaps that ‘freedom’ is roosted in the tallest tower of my castle, yet. Not because I am consciously holding myself back, or because ‘society’ is holding me back—but because it is ourselves who hold the world back.

Weird, right?

It is inevitable that the words and actions of one person affects another, and can ultimately contribute in dictating the outcome of that person’s life. The effects are not always direct, of course—but nothing can be undone. A choice is forever.

We all know that the students currently attending grade-school did not make the laws. I’m sure that half of them would opt for alternative learning methods, if going through the system was not ingrained in national policy. A policy that was created by politicians at least two centuries ago, a choice stamped into eternity.

Having an income. Acquiring a diploma, promotion, whatever it may be—these are only things we desire because it further secures us of ‘life’; of survival, comfortability. Laws, custom, society, mentality—they may interfere with our freedom, but they’re also an attempt to guarantee us security.

Legislations created by people of the past, prosperity for people of the future. For us. Monarchs, dictators, prime ministers, and popes—even the nicest leader of the bunch—will never be able to grant us freedom. Liberty is a humble synonym, and is available to us as long as we function within the realm of society’s rubric of legality. It is people who make our lives spin round, not any one individual. Whether it was that Massachusetts governor, or your boss’s twice-removed step-cousin, their existence is inevitably intertwined with not only yours, but everyone else’s, existence.

It does not matter if someone made a choice ten minutes ago, or ten centuries down the line. Everyone’s decisions impact the world we live in (and even beyond). Sure, I didn’t ask to attend school, and perhaps you didn’t especially desire that desk job with the expectations that it would make you happy, or free. But somehow, some way, each one of us has been ushered into a situation that we feel is holding us back from something more—and substituting that ‘something’ with a lesser reward.

Our castles are fleshed out in moats, soldiers, iron gates, the works—and with all our security, of course it is difficult to reach that very precious room on the top floor without being told to, “Please take a walk down this staircase, first.” Or, “If you want to reach that room, you’ll have to please go down this hallway.”

It is only in the name of your security, of course. The world wants us all to be content. So, it is only rational that we all follow the same customs. Customs which were created by—yes. By people, like you and me, as consequences of the choices they made.

Us. Society. The world.

We hold ourselves back for the sake of saving ourselves. Rules and custom are tactics of defense against uncertainty. There is no security in a world without custom. Chaos is the consequence of disregarding our constructions, so we tell each other. We are so daunted to climb up to that tallest tower, where our aspirations reside. Where our dreams, freedoms, risks, await.


We point each other in different directions; I choose to save you from uncertain expeditions, so I point towards the plasticine yard. You feel my aspired heights are outlandish—and beckon me to first landing, instead of the third.

We hold the world back. We do it all with our best intentions, but fear of failure has tugged us into a treacherous circle of dependence on those who know so little of our lives. Think about it—how many life choices have you made where you weren’t pressured from those who didn’t know you? Are you living with the choices you were forced to make, or choices you truly desired to make? If you had no fear of others’ opinions, or the societal consequences your dreams might entail, would you have chosen differently?


12 thoughts on “What’s Holding Us Back?

  1. Thank you for this great post. It resonated with much of what I have also been thinking about lately and how we can create lives that are free from the shackles of expectations, society, other people’s opinions, our own narrow beliefs etc. It’s hard to do and so easy to get entrenched in “the system”! I think the sad reality (for me, at least), is that it is usually the need for money that holds us back from doing and being all we could be. I am similar to you in that I have a dream about living off the land and being self-sufficient… to me, this seems like the ultimate way to escape from the rat race and reconnect with nature, although I am aware I have a tendency to “romanticise” this idea and I think it could also be tough and very hard work in a different way.

    I am also like you in that I love the idea of educating people to be kind and to love the planet. I would like to help people/children to reconnect with nature and animals so they develop compassion and respect for all life. I have no idea how to do this though or where to begin! I feel like most conventional jobs are not designed for introverted dreamers and most of the jobs I have held have totally drained the life out of me and made me miserable. Anyway, it’s obvious I don’t yet have the answers but just wanted to let you know I appreciated your post and could relate. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad that you could relate!

      It’s understandable to romanticize the idea of “living off the land”. I can imagine the lifestyle, though very taxing physically, is extremely rewarding. Take into account this quote, one of my favorites; “Prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue” (philosopher Francis Bacon).

      It truly makes me so happy to see that you love the idea of educating others. To give you an idea of what I try to do; incorporate your cause into your actions. When others witness you acting a certain way, they are likely to reciprocate that. For example, I try to avoid using plastic straws, because the products greatly harm marine life. Some of my family members have caught on to this, and agreed not to purchase/use any more plastic straws. Begin with the little things, and follow through.

      Fortunately, not buying into consumer culture is imperative and quite possible. If you cannot make as much money as you’d like doing things you like doing, there are always ways to simplify your purchases to make the financial situation less harsh. We only have one life; if you are ever stuck in a job that is harming you emotionally, it is for the best that you search for a more tolerable one. I’m so glad that you acknowledge that your personality or interests, for whatever reason, do not align with whatever’s open on the job market, rather than repressing your feelings. “To be great is to be misunderstood.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I agree that the little things and living by example can make a difference and I try to remember this and do what I can! I love what you said about incorporating your cause into your actions. People don’t like to be preached at but leading by example (like cutting down on plastic or eating more vegetarian dishes) could be a more effective way to instigate change.

        It’s true, life is way too short to spend in a job that is toxic or stressful. I’ve also been thinking that maybe my expectations for a job are too high and that it’s a bit of a myth that a job must align with your passions. I think if I could live simply, work part-time in a job that isn’t too stressful and have enough time and energy for the stuff I really care about, then I could be happier.

        Liked by 1 person

        • “…leading by example . . . could be a more effective way to instigate change.”
          Exactly! We should aim to “Be the change…”

          Most jobs, I believe, are not necessary (grocers could be easily replaced by robots, for example), except that they are needed because people need to make a living. So it makes sense that finding a job that you’re passionate about may be impossible, because the vast majority of jobs are not ones people are usually passionate about, and the ones that are, are the most difficult to get! So your expectations for your ideal job are only fair, in my opinion, and healthy. Working part-time sounds reasonable. I have the same issue!


  2. Very good post. Indeed, very thought-provoking. I also really liked reading the comments left by sibillerose and Dreamerrambling .. that was a great way to get my brain cooking. I definitely need more time to think about this but this post has given me a brand new perspective of how to think about “kids” in grade school.
    My brain tells me to tell you to learn when to be free and when to follow society. Regardless of how you may look at society, it is the womb which we all a part of. We need to know when to listen to elders, to society, to the law, because that is what keeps humans in line. We have a brain like an individual, as a free soul, but without society you are nothing. We all need to be individuals but also know and learn. In grade-school, kid, you don’t know enough to start going out into the world. It will eat you up and spit you the fuck out. You may think in your teens that your family and friends have your back and will go along with your individual decision that you decided to make, but they will eventually turn on you if you go too far. I don’t know when kids should stop going to school, it is obviously in need of change, it is a way to make consumers and believers out of you. But guess what, every adult has to go through the hoops you were given until you’re on your own. Until you’re alone. My brain tells me to tell you that you need to know when to listen.
    My heart tells me FUCK everything I just said. You should go out there and be an individual, quit what you’re doing now and just do it! If you don’t you’ll be brainwashed like the rest of us. Taking risks, being a martyr, THAT’S who CHANGES things. Look into the history books, who do we remember. People who weren’t like the rest of us. People who did things differently. You’ll die young but dammit you’ll be a fucking hero.
    Use both your heart and your brain. You decide what freedom is. No one else cares what you think or do. Some will support you or not, but they don’t care. They just use you.
    But remember, we are all human. We all think and have the same feelings as you: We’re all individuals stuck in a system or a society, and we all think that we’re different. People just need to speak up. Trust people. Take chances. But never get mad, never get frustrated…. Understand you’re not the only anarchist stuck inside a liberals body, that part doesn’t matter. What matters is WHAT our ancestors have given us (OUR SOCIETY, SCHOOLS, HOSPITALS) without that, your thoughts on the internet wouldn’t even exist…..
    Again, great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Regardless of how you may look at society, it is the womb which we all a part of.”
      Agreed. I may be digressing a bit to say that this reminds me of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. An object cannot have a purpose as long as it is not in relation to another; ex, we cannot have Earth without the sun. During my early teen years, I greatly resented being part of “the system”. More recently, I’ve looked at all we’ve done in our society, and feel so grateful that we have made it this far together. The technology we have is stunning, our architecture beyond brilliant for civilization that has only been around for a few millennia. I’m proud to be part of society, and proud that I have the heart to want to improve upon it.

      “We are all human.”
      If any sentiment, any truth, is to incite social change, let it be this. At the end of the day, every politician and every worker just wants to be happy. Fear should not be the motivator of any kind of revolution. It should be passion, a genuine desire to make life better for all.

      Thanks so much for reading, NM!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Einstein was a very smart man. He knew what he was talking about. The universe is a magical place to be a part of but there are rules which must be followed. Until the rules are changed. I agree with you about revolution, it should be about passion and the genuine desire to make life better for all.

        You put it perfectly.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s almost as if society has become something else removed from us, a machine that keeps on clicking away without anyone controlling it anymore, spurred by its own motion.
    Your post really echoed some of the thoughts I’ve been having lately. What kind of life I would live if I was unrestrained by the need to live, to earn a living and survive in this world. Frankly, I would quite like to live off the land, growing my own plants, keeping chickens and collecting eggs, that sort of thing. Not realistic under my current financial circumstances, but it’s a pipe-dream, at least.
    My castle, I think, might be Heaven, or God, because I feel like nothing on Earth can fully satisfy my desire for magic and wonder, for strangeness and weirdness, so I yearn for something beyond this world. And I feel like something else that holds me back is lack of talent, or ability. For instance, I’ve often wished to be professional singer, but I neither have the songwriting or vocal ability to pursue such a dream. As for writing—well, I often feel as though I am lacking in that area as well, though I do thank you for your praise for my words.
    But without the machine—society, customs, and so on—what would we do with ourselves? That’s the question.

    Liked by 3 people

    • “It’s almost as if society has become something else . . . spurred by its own motion.”
      I wonder where we are headed with this mindset (as a society)—what is the ultimate purpose of all this ‘motion’?

      For the longest time I wanted to do what you are saying, to live off of the land in some secluded, fairy tail part of the wilderness. I don’t know if a commune would suffice, but self-sufficiency is a beautiful thing, and it is possible to live out. I suppose money both enslaves and frees, but only in turn.

      It is healthy to have doubts about our artistic abilities (incites motivation for improvement), but your way with words is magical. I do hope that society, despite our havoc, will not deter you from creating worlds, whether you do it for a living or not.

      I would like to be annoyingly Socratic and say, before trying to answer your question; What is ‘society’, anyway?

      If we did not have society+customs, what would we do with ourselves? I suppose we’d function almost like children. We’d see life as a sort of game, but not a contest. Even if we didn’t reach our dreams, or goals, disparagement would come from within ourselves instead of others looking down upon us. This is a figurative way of putting it. In reality, childhood doesn’t last forever. We grow out of it. Fights would be picked over necessities, like children fighting over toys. Hierarchies re-instituted. Society re-established. It’s hard question to answer. I want to do more thinking about this for sure . Thank you for your comment!!!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think without ”society” as we have it today, there’d be a lot more free time and people would be engaged in much more entertainment and games, and perhaps a lot more lazy, too; and yes, if there aren’t enough resources to go around, eventually humans would form groups or tribes and fight each other for them. But eventually rules and customs would form—that’s just how human societies work, I think.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I found this a powerful piece that has really gotten me thinking. I recently began trying to take steps to live in my castle (though I obviously didn’t think of it in those terms), and I agree with your analysis of how society is holding itself back by following society. I also love your definition of free, and I think that is what a lot of people aspire for. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

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