The idea of entrepreneurship is extremely trendy right now. More and more workers are turning to freelancing to escape cubicles, grow wealth, and develop happiness in their lives. You can find countless articles and blog posts that extol the virtues of running your own business or taking control of your career by leaving the 9-to-5 behind.
And as someone who actively clawed their way out of a Monday through Friday job in order to make my living as a freelance writer, I get it. I agree.
I value my location independence and ability to work from my own home office, or my favorite coffee shop — or, as I’m writing this, 30,000 feet in the air over the Gulf of Mexico as I return from a week on the Yucatan Peninsula.
But entrepreneurship or freelancing are both just paths to take, not end games or ultimate solutions. Anyone who promises either of these things (or anything else, for that matter) as the one solution to all your worries and woes is deluded at best and a liar at worst.
Today, I still earn part of my living working as a freelance writer. I also provide marketing consulting for financial advisors.
But I’m an employee again and that’s the bulk of my work and income. In that role, I have a boss that I answer to and co-workers that rely on me. I have meetings I need to attend. I have goals to meet, metrics to hit, and a team to manage. I earn a paycheck so my income is limited to my annual salary.
I carry all the trappings of employment that plenty of people say hold me back, or keep me from being happy, or prevent me from ever building real wealth.
And yet I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been. I’m more engaged, satisfied, and fulfilled in my current roles than I have been at any other point in my life.
Why? Because, as tempting as it was to buy into the story someone else was selling, I tuned out the noise and did what I truly wanted to do.
Let me explain.
The Dangers of Worrying Over What Others Say
There’s a lot of noise out there right now about how you need to quit your 9-to-5 and start a lifestyle business. Or start freelancing. Or start a blog and run some sort of affiliate marketing scheme on the internet.
If some form of working for yourself enables you to live the life you want, that’s fabulous. More power to you. I went down that road and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made so far.
But the problem with the above idea all rests in one word: need. That you need to do something a certain way in order to recognize and fulfill your calling and live a life that leaves you happy and satisfied.
When I was offered my current job, I was terrified that accepting the position would somehow make me a failure. I worked so hard to get out of my old job. I railed against the idea of being an employee.
Essentially, I drank the “working for yourself is the only way to be rich and happy” Kool-Aid.
I stopped thinking about what I wanted to do and started worrying about what everyone else thought I should do. I fought so hard to get off the traditionally prescribed path that went something like: go to school, get a degree, work hard for someone else for 40 years and then you’ll be successful.
I fought so hard against it that I was in danger of backing onto another path that was just as prescribed. It was the same song and dance, just dressed up in different clothes: quit your job, work for yourself, and then you’ll be really successful. (We mean it this time.)
Thankfully, I listened to my gut when I was offered my job with XY Planning Network. My position is 100% virtual and the company maintains an open vacation policy, meaning I remain in control of my time and schedule. I’m extremely autonomous in my role and am encouraged to ask for forgiveness, not permission when making decisions. I’m allowed to work on personal projects and maintain my own business.
It’s a dream job with a fantastic team that allows me the freedom and flexibility I crave. But I nearly missed this opportunity all because I was worried about the “shoulds.” I was caught up in a story someone else was selling, a story that said employment = bad stuff, no matter what.
In that story, there’s no room for looking at what’s actually happening in a specific situation. And that’s the biggest red flag I can warn you of: if you see a blanket statement, it’s time to start questioning what’s really going on here.
Avoiding All Prescribed Paths (Not Just the Obvious Ones)
It’s easy to spot the “traditional” prescribed paths that we should think twice about before walking down. These paths are wide and pervasive — most of society is walking this path, so it takes up a huge amount of space in our lives and minds to accommodate the majority.
It’s harder to guard against the paths that are nontraditional but still prescriptive, that say we must do things a certain way because it’s the only way. In our efforts to avoid that big, slow-moving, slow-thinking majority, we seek unique and different tracks to tread down.
If there are fewer people on the path, we automatically assume it’s because we’re wiser, more clever, to find ourselves where the herd could never go.
But the problem is even a handful of people still make up a group, and groupthink doesn’t need a majority to influence our behavior. A very small tribe can still cry out blanket statements that say, “our way is the only way.”
There is no one right way, no only way, to live life off the rails and find your own place in this world. It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you mindfully decided to pursue whatever path you’re on.
If that means quitting your job and becoming some sort of digital nomad, great! That’s awesome!
If that means excelling in your role as an employee and loving the team you work with, great! That’s awesome!
If that means having 2.3 kids and a minivan that you drive around during the day and practicing your creative craft once the kids are in bed because having a cozy little family in the suburbs and being a slam poetry artist are both aspects of your life that you value, great! That’s awesome!
What is important to you? What do you love? How you want to live? The answers to these questions are likely plucked from a variety of fields and philosophies and the life you want likely requires that you smash them all up together to create a reality that is pretty dang unique.
Your path won’t exactly match the path featured in anyone else’s story because very, very few of us have ideal lives that line up with someone else’s version of how to reach fulfillment. Your path will feature a paradox or two, and that’s okay.
In fact, I’d argue that identifying a paradox is one sure sign that you’re discovering how to live the life you want.
Get Started Living the Life You Want
Living the life you want starts with understanding what is right for you. You need to tune out the noise and tune in to what your happiness looks like. If anyone tells you a certain path is the only way to get to the life you want to live, ignore them. They’re wrong.
There is no one right way for everyone. It doesn’t matter what you do, how you pursue creative living, or how you develop the life you want to live. All paths are on the table and you’ll need to cobble together a variety of different directions and ways of doing things.
Living the life you want requires you to create. Just like any other craft, it’s a process that demands you mold and shape it. And the end result is something only you could have made.