Personal Freedom

How do you define it? Can you handle it?

The bird’s song in the mangroves is just audible over the mellow music. The fans over the bar are helping me manage the heat. I’m torn between wearing my sunglasses to protect my eyes from the sun as it sparkles off the marina water or take them off so I can see the computer screen. Twelve noon has just passed. My first beer won’t see the bottom of the hour. Such is the beginning of another day in the islands.

Freedom. Personal freedom to be exact, is a topic I’ve been rolling around in my head all morning. I was up at 5 a.m. in order to make the seven hour drive to Key West alone, giving me plenty of quiet time to contemplate. There have been many people over the past few months reminding me of how lucky I am and asking how I live as I do. People often ask how they can live a similar life. Which is why I suppose the idea of freedom took root today.

Carl with Mic at Soggy Dollar, Jost van Dyke

Carl with Mic at Soggy Dollar, Jost van Dyke ©2011 Carl Grooms

Many people say they want freedom to live in the islands, swing in a hammock or whatever seems to them as living the perfect tropical life. I’m not so sure many people can really handle true freedom. And who’s to say what true freedom really is? Everybody’s goal, purpose and journey in life is different. What I do, or you do, has little meaning nor should it, for others. I hesitate to even tackle the topic of freedom because it is so personal. What qualifies me to offer my opinion? Probably nothing, but I’m going to anyway.

As a fellow island lover and rum drinker I’d have to say that my perspective is limited to the cliche of the song lines by Jimmy Buffett or Kenny Chesney. It’s not that I am mesmerized by the men, or even the music, on the contrary. What captures me is the message they convey. This is what helps me manipulate my life’s tiller. To call it a helm is an overstatement. I don’t have that kind of personal control. Most of you don’t either. If you want freedom, you need to at least understand what you want to be free to do or how to live.

Ivan's Stress Free Bar, Jost van Dyke

Ivan's Stress Free Bar, Jost van Dyke ©2011 Carl Grooms

Freedom to me doesn’t mean retirement. I work my tail off, usually seven days a week. I would be lost without hard work. All of my other island friends and writers work just as hard. Just because you are free to focus your life on being a pirate, a castaway, a rum lover, a singer/songwriter or a sailor doesn’t mean you’ve checked out. I loathe lazy and don’t know anyone living an equally fun life as me who doesn’t work hard at gaining it, keeping it and enhancing it. The difference, we do it for ourselves, we are self driven, there is no boss controlling us. You can’t handle freedom if you can’t manage yourself.

Freedom means strong relationships with spouses, family and friends. I hear a lot of grousing of people wanting to be free of each other. It doesn’t work that way. When you are truly free you need a strong support network around you because you are no longer caged by the authority you so want to dispose of. For me a twenty-two year marriage that is stronger than Category 5 hurricane gives me the freedom to be who I was meant to be. There are days, like today, that I am amazed my wife kisses me goodbye and says don’t come home early you need to spend more time in Islamorada. Now that’s freedom.

Enjoying my freedom with Debbie

Enjoying my freedom with Debbie ©2011 Carl Grooms

Freedom sometimes means a lighter bank account. I would argue that your life account will be bursting and far make up the deficit between ledgers. Material things tend to handcuff us. Wether it be a mortgage, a luxury car or the newest television, these things can quickly suck freedom away from our grip. I’m not advocating living as a pauper for the sake of freedom. I drive a nice car, maybe too nice. I live in a new home and enjoy watching NFL football on my big screen as much as the next guy. Those things were not acquired at the expense of freedom however. When we make a withdrawal for a purchase my wife and I look at our bank and at our life accounts. If I don’t have enough to make a trip to Grenada to make new friends, as I recently did, I don’t want that new shiny toy. Instead, as in the case of Grenada, I made two friends for life. Priceless.

Freedom. I’ve worked in a cubicle, I’ve been the boss, I’ve been strung out on a mortgage, I’ve been surrounded by negative people, I’ve made big financial mistakes just like you may have. Today I’m free to drink my beer, which is not quite finished but too warm now to drink, and write on laptop in Islamorada because I focused real hard on trying to be free. Does offering my thoughts on this come across a bit preachy or full of hubris to you? I certainly hope not, nor is there an iota of intent for it to do so.

On that note another of my new friends, Shawn just texted that he has broken free of work and is heading my way. I can’t wait to make more great friends this weekend, play some guitar and sip a little rum. Such is how I define my own freedom. What is yours?

Foxy's. Jost van Dyke

Foxy's. Jost van Dyke ©2011 Carl Grooms

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12 Responses to “Personal Freedom”

  1. sisjoan September 16, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    What you wrote brought tears to my eyes! You have captured every emotion one could have to make the decision to move to an island and live there. It would be hard I think to be “on vacation” every day – but it certainly would be great to do what you do and meet new people. I think all your readers know how hard you work – and when you tell a story about where you’ve been – its like I can kind of feel like I was there too; and for a few minutes it makes me happy!! Keep on writing and reporting all those stories about life, love and good friends! Your wife is an awsome woman and I admire her! Maybe someday my friend and I will run into you on Tortola or St John and we can be part of your story!!

  2. Tim September 16, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    Carl, I really enjoy reading your writings and appreciate the fact that you have followed your dreams. However, one sentence made me post this.

    You stated “What I do, or you do, has little meaning nor should it, for others.” I think this is what is wrong with our society. Many of us, and myself included, focus too much on ourselves. Rather, we should spend our time on this planet helping others, promoting the good of mankind.

    I don’t know you personally, so I can’t comment on if you volunteer or donate to charities. Again, guilty as charged. However, when you take the time to go above and beyond and help your fellow brother, your actions have great meaning to others.

    All the best,


  3. jim cannon September 16, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    Thanks for putting your perspective into words. I admire your thoughts and actions.

  4. Wendy Gunderson September 17, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    Spend it while you can – money is contraband. You can’t take it with you when you go!


  5. Shawn Martin September 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Great meeting you man and a great write up as well. Between reading this, talking with you, sitting with Bahama Bob and Mike on Bob’s boat (aka rum lab) and see how so many people that I now can call friends have freed themselves from the shackles of the day to day rat race I think has offered me some perspective; a perspective that I lost recently and have been looking for. As you said, one needs a personal definition of freedom and this weekend has helped to hone in on that a bit more. As we discussed this weekend in my change in education and career goals I am definitely posturing myself towards that end. Through some more reflection I will reach my definition of freedom and then can plot my course to that far off harbor. Joy, pain, laughter, and tears I am sure will be a part of the journey but in the end the voyage will be grand. Thanks for everything; till next time. Cheers!

    • Carl Grooms
      Carl Grooms September 20, 2011 at 8:16 am #

      Shawn. It was my privilege to spend the weekend with you and Jean. I haven’t always been on this path. I think you have a great head start.

  6. Big Kahuna September 19, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    Thanks man! You just inspired me! I’m selling the kids and leaving the house at my mom’s! I’m headed to the islands to live till I die from it!
    (That’s not really what you meant for us to do is it? )
    Kidding of course, but you did help with the inspiration for this weeks op-ed piece!

    • Carl Grooms
      Carl Grooms September 20, 2011 at 8:14 am #

      Send me a copy of the oped piece. Too funny brother.

  7. Derek S. September 20, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    It was both educational and therapeutic spending time with you guys this weekend. What you have written here, for me, serves as another indicator to what choices we have in life. We can choose to live to work – focusing on how much money we make, what titles we have, and base our goals on the materialistic possessions we obtain. The problem is that that path never ends. There never is any real peace, as one is always chasing that endless materialistic goal.

    Or, we can work to live – focusing on the quality of our life (not just work-life), the quality of our relationships with friends and family, and the peace we’ve obtained in being brave enough to explore our own depths. As you stated, following this path does not mean that one has given up or checked-out. Most people probably can’t rationalize such thought, and that is to their own detriment.

    With that stated, I find your writing to be motivational. You are someone I can look up to, as I am stuck in the rat race with hopes of one day finding a way out.

    • Carl Grooms
      Carl Grooms September 20, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

      Derek. I’m glad this resonated with you. It was great to spend the weekend together in Key West doing what WE wanted to do. Keep at it, I look forward to seeing you again soon. Cheers.

  8. Holli October 13, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Hi Carlton – I voted for you in the recent rumologist contest – thanks to the plugs by ZerotoCruising.

    Anyway, my hubby and I have been dreaming of and planning toward our lives on a boat. We have now bought a catamaran that it is in Grenada. We plan to leave our jobs and go live on it from March 2012.

    I love the way you have taken a view of the lifestyle – it’s a philosophical view that i hadn’t thought of, but you are right – it’s all about personal freedom. We’re looking forward to it and hope to meet you somewhere in the Caribbean.

    • Carl Grooms
      Carl Grooms October 13, 2011 at 11:37 am #

      Holli, what a wonderful adventure you are preparing for. My children are off to college in the next two years. I’m already preparing for the same end game. Stay in touch I would love to enjoy a rum together down island. Thank you for reading.

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