I’ve always thought that a traditional college education was the single most important time of a young adult’s life. Here is where students experiment with the discovery of truth. It’s a time of intellectual pursuit.
That all changes when they sign their first contract. Intellectual interests shift to the company or organization that signs their paycheck.
They often times defend that entity without fully buying into what it stands for. My general rule is I do not fully trust what someone says about the organization which grants them their paycheck, which means I trust next to no one’s defense of the organization or company which employs them. I call this the tyranny of the paycheck.
This always bothered me about my own situation. For many years I knew exactly where I had to tow the line if I were to remain employed. This began to disturb me about myself. It gradually made me feel like a cross between a caged animal and a dancing monkey. Dramatic words, but when I tone them down, it only becomes worse. Emasculation was one descriptor I thought of using. Without belaboring the point, this was a big deal in my life.
One of my main issues was that I was not free, free to speak and say exactly what I really felt.
To remedy the challenge I did the following:
1. After fifteen years of employment where I received a consistent paycheck every two weeks, I quit and started my own company. (I wasn’t a malcontent or trouble maker. I had had a lot of success. I was treated very well by those who employed me. For twelve of those fifteen years, I couldn’t think of doing anything else. It just started coming over me, and built to a point where I decided enough was enough.)
2. I became a management consultant and radio commentator. I saved money like mad so I wouldn’t become captive to my clients. My philosophy was, no client will take any more than 10% of my billing time. That’s important, because once a client knows they represent the majority of your billing, they do one of two things: they either buy you out, or they start treating you like an employee. Either way, you are trapped. I had to work continuously to ensure that my client base was diversified.
Also, I created what one of my friends calls a “screw you fund.” I got to a point where I could walk away from any situation and have money to live on. At times I was saving and investing up to thirty to forty percent of my income annually. This is when I realized it takes a lot of sacrifice to be independent. Sometimes you do better at it than other times, but you never stopped working for that sweet spot.
3. I refused to be a message carrier for my clients. My most direct statement was, ”sorry, but I don’t carry anyone else’s water.” Some clients stopped using my services after that. I didn’t care because I had my screw you fund. But this one point is the most challenging aspect of management consulting. That is, there are those clients who contract you so that they can tell you what they want you to say to the employees.
Why do that? That was the reason I left full time employment in the first place. The idea is to be independent, so you can be free to say what you want to say without someone telling you what to say.
4. I withdrew from every extracurricular organization that expected me to give predetermined answers as a pre-requisite of participation.
5. Finally I started owning the companies I consulted for. I now own a company which sponsors my essays and radio commentaries. My company buys my time to write, and pays for my commentaries on radio.
This was the greatest step I ever made in my life. It is the single freest I’ve ever been.
Just think, it has taken me nearly thirty years to pull this off where I’m as free and independent as any human can be.
Many people have their passions in life. Some climb the highest mountains, others buy cars; for me, stretching the limits of my independence to speak my mind freely is mine. It doesn’t bother me whether someone agrees or disagrees with me. It only matters that my words are not filtered. I’ve worked almost my entire life to be the real deal. To be free of all things under the sun.
Freedom has always been my strongest intoxicant.
Since I have been working full time, I have never missed receiving a paycheck. I love that accomplishment. But what I have loved more is that for thirty of those years, I have written my own paycheck.
At the core of that is my personal craving to be absolutely free to write and speak what I feel and think. I have to feel free. I cannot be someone else’s talking head.
If that were the case, I’m certain I would have ended up sad and neurotic, even bitter. I would have been broken and programmed. I would be under spells and delusions.
It’s hard to be completely free. For example when you write a book, even though you are free to express whatever you want, you have publishers in mind when you do it, and subtly that influences not only how you write, but what you write.
But then came the biggest miracle of all – the Internet. And after that came ebook publishing. How much more freedom is there?
I not only wanted to have a point of view, but many points of view. If I were wrong in what I said, I wanted to have the freedom to say I was wrong.
My way isn’t The ONLY way, it’s just my way.
There have been times I’ve been seen as a bit arrogant when I write things like this. Well, I’ve also been accused of being insecure. To me these are two sides of the same coin. Arrogance and insecurity more often than not are the same thing. Other than that, my march toward freedom and independence is what drives me.
You know the lesson I’ve learned? Freedom isn’t a permanent state. There is more than the tyranny of the paycheck that can tie you up. Repeating yourself without having anything fresh to say is also a type of tyranny. You have to keep moving and experiencing new things in order to see life in new ways. Anyway you cut it, freedom to say what you want to say is a constant effort. An effort worth the work. After all, that’s what I’ve been working at all my life. I’d become a pillar of salt if I stopped now.