I value freedom more than anything else, and I’m willing to heavily sacrifice to lead a free and independent life. I thus live in a way that differs from mainstream culture, but which I find incredibly more satisfying. I’d like to share with you some of the choices I’ve made over the years to live as freely as possible.
It is not my aim to convince you that some way of living is superior. My intent is to open your mind to the possibility that you’re not stuck in your lifestyle, and that alternative and more efficient ways exist. This might not appeal to you fit well in 9-to-5, or if you prefer stability and comfort over freedom. But chances are you’re not particularly fond of Monday mornings.
I’m writing this for the mass of people who are disenchanted with modern work culture and crave freedom, yet can’t find their way out of the rat race. I was in your shoes, literally disgusted by the lifestyle that society had laid out before me. Trust me, there are other options than the endless circle of work and consumption people call “living”. You can reclaim sovereignty over your own fate. I did it. Here’s how I live free:
Freedom from work
From a young age, I found it puzzling that people had to work so much. They seem caught in a loop of work and obligations. I always had a vague feeling that life should improve over time, but growing up didn’t look like a good deal. Adults were stuck in a stressful lifestyle, not out of choice, but out of need. Not unlike prisoners, some eagerly waited retirement.
Work itself wasn’t the problem, it was the worker lifestyle that repulsed me. Depending on someone else for my income, waking up to an alarm clock, driving through traffic, obeying a boss, living on a schedule, asking permission to take days off … I already hated school’s rigid structure, and the thought of spending life this way depressed me.
Was there a way out? Living differently used to be hard. Both ways of generating income, by selling time to an employer or by selling value as an entrepreneur, required heavy commitments. Moreover, the costs associated with maintaining a job were so high that working part-time was not an option.
Fortunately, the 21st century came to the rescue, with wonderful tools to live outside the box. Internet allows for location-independent work, and makes it relatively easy to start a small business. Work can now revolve around your life, instead of the opposite. Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich is an excellent book describing this revolutionary concept.
Inspired by this idea, I’ve focused on income generating opportunities that require little commitment and don’t compromise my freedom. That meant turning down high-paying job offers and opportunities that didn’t fit the lifestyle I was aiming for. To most, turning these offers down was a risky and unwise choice. In retrospect, I’m incredibly grateful I had the courage to act with my gut feelings in these crucial moments.
I now strictly work as a location-independent professional for about 10 hours a week. Not quite the 4-hour workweek, but surely getting there. I’m building a few streams of passive income on the side, and am well on my way to reaching financial independence at around 30 years old. “Freedom 31!”
However, freedom from work wouldn’t be possible without another choice:
Frugality, or freedom from financial worries
How much does one really need? I never understood how, with modern technological advances, most people still only seemed to “get by”. I realized that instead of increasing their freedom, people used money to inflate their lifestyle. Simply put, they prefer having more “stuff” than working less.
Pursuing luxury and comfort doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather have tons of free time than piles of possessions. I’m firmly convinced that we don’t need much to be well and happy. Western culture is built around careless spending; I see the standards of living of the middle class as a black hole of waste and neglect. My answer to 21st century wastefulness is frugality: I live simply and well below my means. Last time I checked, I spend about a third of what I earn.
Excessive spending traps people into working full-time until they’re 65. It creates a vicious circle where they have limited free time; just want a break and are willing to pay a lot for a quick relief. If you drive to work everyday, purchasing a comfortable car suddenly makes sense. Yet that expense is one of the reasons you’ll have to actually drive to work most of your life.
As ironic as it sounds, it’s expensive to work. Higher rent, transportation, child care… think of the additional costs workers put up with. Add to that inconveniences such as traffic, schedules, alarm clocks, having a boss, and all the free time burnt along the way. Isn’t that a high price to pay… to work?
I see work as an investment, and if I happen to work for money’s sake, which I still do, I want to get the best return out of my time spent. All factors considered, selling my time in an expensive urban location is not the wisest investment.
A busy worker lifestyle doesn’t lend itself well to cheap activities either. When free time is scarce, we can’t afford to waste it on inexpensive but time-consuming tasks like cooking, home maintenance, walking or gardening.
Now, I’m not suggesting we go back to the stone age and farm our way to survival. Unless you enjoy gardening, it surely makes more sense to buy food than to grow it. What I’m getting at is that the 9-to-5 grind has hidden costs, and that more efficient – and enjoyable – alternatives exist.
With plenty of leisure time, I find joy in activities that are both useful and save money. In fact, most of what I enjoy in life is free, but takes time. Reading, meditating, walking in the woods, writing, composing music, chilling with friends… none of that is as enjoyable when I’m in a rush. I like my life with broad margins, loose schedules and vague plans, so that I can find profound satisfaction in simply living. Fortunately, such a way of life can be sustained without much money. For example, a major benefit of being a location-independent worker is living wherever you want. That can result in huge savings. A few months back, I bought a place in a slightly remote location, in Canada. It was ridiculously cheap and fits my lifestyle a lot more than an urban apartment.
This place costs about 200$ a month to live in, which is incredibly low by western standards. It’s also a lot smaller than most houses; but hey, how big a place does a guy meditating, writing, and playing music all year need?
By rethinking our spending habits and priorities, and focusing directly on what generates happiness, I believe we can live a much freer and rewarding life. It’s very simple: if you like freedom more than you like stuff, frugality is the way to go.
Freedom from the mind
Wanting little is one of the skills that serves me best. However, I didn’t force frugality upon myself, it came naturally. A common misconception is that frugality is a struggle, a sacrifice. For me, it was the inevitable result of self-inquiry. Meditating led me to realize that what made me profoundly happy was right here, right now.
In the past, I felt like pursuing a career or a social status would lead me to a state of satisfaction, a place of “mission accomplished”. When deep satisfaction was found within, these superficial quests faded away. That removed a huge layer of anxiety about the future. I used to think that happiness needed a strategy, but now I see that strategies are the only way to avoid it. The urge to “get somewhere” in worldly pursuits is gone. It’s only natural that such realizations have led to a less “goal-oriented” lifestyle.
To finish, here’s a quote from Herman Hesse’s Siddharta I find inspiring. It demonstrates the freedom brought by breaking mental bondages.
- “What is it that you’ve learned, what you’re able to do?”
- “I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”
- “That’s everything?”
- “I believe, that’s everything!”
- “And what’s the use of that? For example, the fasting– what is it
- “It is very good, sir. When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the
smartest thing he could do. When, for example, Siddhartha hadn’t
learned to fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this
day is up, whether it may be with you or wherever, because hunger would
force him to do so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows
no impatience, he knows no emergency, for a long time he can allow
hunger to besiege him and can laugh about it. This sir, is what fasting is good for.”
Most of us deal with boredom, feeling empty and dissatisfaction by seeking external fixes. This leads to an endless chase because the ultimate barrier to complete freedom is the mind, not the world. The fundamental chains your need to cut yourself from are your habits, desires and fears. You can easily live free if you make it a priority. Don’t live under the illusion that it will come later. Retirement, or other worldly achievements, are not the light at the end of the tunnel.
That being said, life shouldn’t be spent working towards distant mirages. Living the way you want is a possibility, not a privilege. It’s never been easier to live on your own terms, take advantage of it!
Inspiration and related reads:
- On rethinking work: The Four Hour Workweek
- On the reason behind the 40-hour workweek: Your Lifestyle has Already Been Designed
- On simply living: Walden
- On retiring at 30 years old: Getting Rich: From Zero to Hero in one blog post
- Highly recommended guided meditation session.