The Invisible Fence

As you probably already know, one good way to keep your dog fenced in is the invisible fence. It’s a loop of wire you run around your yard that triggers their special collar if they cross the wire, giving them an electric shock.

After a while you don’t need the collar or the wire anymore. The dog has been conditioned not to cross the edge of the yard. Cool system.

When we are children we have a similar construct. Parents establish where the line is, and if you cross it you get in trouble. Go to bed later than midnight and you’ll hear about it. Get lower than a B and you get lectured. Say words that cross a certain line of civility and get reprimanded.

Just as the dog doesn’t need to know every point on the fence to identify the line he can’t cross, we as children get a sense for where the line is. As toddlers we need to be told everything, but as we get older we know the boundaries.

The other day I was walking to my lawyer’s office here in Budapest. I was meeting with the seller of a flat to finalize the contract and to sign it. For a moment my perspective zoomed out and I thought about how strange this was. Here I am, in Hungary, all by myself, buying an apartment with my and my friends’ money.

And I had this feeling that someone should stop me. Like— this is such a weird situation that it should alarm someone and they should zap me back into the yard. Not that it’s a bad thing, just that it’s abnormal enough that it should raise some flags.

I have the same thought almost every time I ride my motorcycle. The other day I booked three trips from the US to Europe and back and thought the same thing.

And while I have a lot of experience and comfort in crossing that invisible line, it’s interesting that even now I notice it. Sometimes it makes me feel uneasy, like I’m out on a limb on my own, and other times it makes me feel proud, like I’m conquering new territory.

I’ve made a life and a career out of crossing that line, so it doesn’t affect me all that much, even though I still notice it. Regardless of how it feels emotionally to cross the line, logically I consider it a sign that I’m probably on the right track.

But others are affected more by the invisible fence. I got lucky and started probing it young, when it was first turned off and no longer zapped me, so I’m not so conditioned to remain in the yard. Others stay within the fence all the time­— in fact they don’t even think about what’s beyond the yard. Every decision takes place within.

And that’s okay, overall. It’s safe within the fence, especially emotionally. Boundaries are set for a reason. The problem is that as we grow up and increase our power and ability to be responsible, the boundaries don’t always expand at the same rate. We’re still conditioned to stay within that small fence we grew up in.

Next time you’re in a situation where you feel like what you want to do isn’t acceptable, give yourself a moment of reflection. Why isn’t it acceptable? Is it because it’s bad, or is it because it’s unknown? Would someone telling you not to do it be the kind of person who shares your values, or would they be someone with different ones? What will really happen if you cross the invisible fence? Is the downside as great as worriers would say?

Challenge yourself to cross the fence once in a while. If you think about it and it seems okay, trust yourself rather than imaginary boundaries. It’s only by crossing the fence a few times that you realize it’s been turned off and won’t zap you anymore.

Ultimate freedom is when you realize that you alone are in charge of your decisions. It’s not freedom of action, but freedom of thought. You can think beyond the confines of the invisible fence and be fully responsible for your own decisions and actions. You will still decide not to take certain actions, but you will have come to that conclusion on your own.

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Photo is a cool statue here in Budapest.

A lot of people have asked for more logistical/practical information on buying property with friends. This is definitely something I will write about in the future. I think I’ll be able to be most useful if I have a little more experience with the Budapest place, so it may be a few weeks or months.

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