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Can Childhood Freedom Shape A Future?



I grew up on a farm during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and from the time I was about four or five, I was allowed to wander the field alone as long as I didn’t go outside the fence line or try to cross the road.

I was free to explore and come up with creative ways to entertain myself, to be responsible and take care of myself, which instilled an adventuresome spirit that was probably the beginnings of my entrepreneurial mindset.

A newfound freedom.

Though I had the freedom to explore on my own, it did come with limits, and the woods behind our property, which I found fascinating, were off-limits completely unless I was with one of my older siblings.

On my sixth birthday, though, I was in for an exciting surprise: My mother and father gave me permission to go into the woods on my own, as long as our pet collie always went with me. The first time I went alone, I remember thinking how big the woods seemed. The trees were tall, there was thick undergrowth, and there were big vines hanging from the trees.

I could bunch the vines together, secure them, and then swing on them. I would also climb to the first branches and hang by my knees. My imagination came to life in the woods. I was always a big Robin Hood fan, and my woods permanently became Sherwood Forest.

After that first day, I ran back to the house, easily three-quarters of a mile, and cried, “Mom, Mom, guess what I did down in the woods today!”

She stopped me immediately and told me she didn’t want to know what I did in the woods. She didn’t even want to think about what I was doing in the woods. “The dog goes with you,” she said. “If anything happens to you, the dog will come back and bark, and we’ll go and find you.”

I didn’t understand at the time, but as I got older, I realized that my mom did worry about what might happen to me down in the woods. But she and my dad also wanted me to have my freedom.

“You, liberated, can produce extraordinary results.” class=

A new sense of responsibility.

For my part, I think that being given permission to go to a place that might be a little risky or dangerous developed a sense of responsibility. I didn’t want the dog to go running to the house barking and my parents having to come search for me. I did not want that to happen at all. I started to really watch out for myself.

It seems to me that that’s the essence of freedom — a parent who has the responsibility for a child’s safety but also wants that person to grow. I’m struck by all the stories I hear today of parents being desperately afraid of anything bad happening to their children. The children are always protected, and all their activities are organized and supervised, which leaves little time for the freedom of creative play.

Of course there are dangers today that my parents couldn’t even have imagined when I was growing up, but there’s a fine line between being rightly aware and therefore cautious, and being overly protective. Children are highly creative and such tremendous learners that it stands to reason they would thrive when given at least some sense of personal freedom and exploration — even if it’s creating their own games or being in nature in the backyard.

There's a fine line between being rightly cautious and being over-protective.
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And the seeds of entrepreneurial thinking were sown.

I’m grateful my parents trusted that the risk of letting me free in the woods was worth it to ensure that I developed an independent, confident mind, a sense of responsibility, and an adventurous nature.

All these years later, when I look at what we’ve created at Strategic Coach, the freedom I have in developing The Strategic Coach Program and to continually grow the organization, and the sense of freedom and confidence I have as an entrepreneur — everything is directly tied back to the amazing gift my parents gave me: my freedom in the woods at six years old.

About the Author

Dan Sullivan is the world’s foremost expert on entrepreneurship in action. He is the founder of The Strategic Coach Inc. and creator of The Strategic Coach® Program. Visionary, creative, wise, playful, and generous, he is a true champion of entrepreneurs worldwide.

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