Most corporate workhorses I know are just that - overworked & overstressed, overweight & over-traveled. "Free from corporate America" means a strength of body & spirit. We might still work with (and for) large companies. But we know our financial security comes from our own skills and imagination.
Jon Reed notes, 1/07/08: As the book gets tantalizingly close to publication, I wanted to share this updated conclusion with you. For the most part, the chapters on the web site are the original drafts, not the spit-and-polish finals. But for web site visitors, I’ve now added the final “book version” of the conclusion. This replaces the original conclusion that was posted on the web site on December 1, 2006 and was the version of record until today.
They say that 1/4 of all Americans are already “freelancers,” but how many of us are really free? Even the definition of freedom is open to question. The pursuit of “financial freedom” is one way to change our destiny, but the all-out pursuit of any goal can prove to be its undoing. We all know people who achieved their financial objectives but ended up with a big list of regrets.
When I think back to my “9 to 5″ years, I can’t help but question them. Most folks who work behind a desk for ten years start to resemble the furniture they sit in. We ante up bodies and sometimes souls for employers that don’t bother returning the favor. That’s why the focus of this book has been achieving financial autonomy. With better control over when and how we work, the rest of our lives balance out accordingly.
If financial autonomy is so important, then why are some of the happiest people mired in money problems? For one thing, this book is not about happiness, it’s about freedom, and the two are not the same. But the overlap is still instructive: the happiest people I know have a combination of meaningful work and inspired relationships.
It’s harder to find happiness when you’re scrapping for rent, but I know people I’d consider happy who are in just that circumstance. They have one thing in common: they haven’t signed over to all-consuming work. They may not have money, but they’ve fought for their time. Their time is the wild card in their hand, which they use on their kids, their show dogs, or their garden. They’ve found a place in their lives that the demands of work can’t touch.
So does that invalidate my premise? If so many keys to happiness lie outside of work and money, then why fight that particular fight?
Because the terms of employment have changed. We can’t take careers for granted, even as a means of basic subsistence. And without subsistence, happiness is hard to come by. But money doesn’t just provide a safety net. It buys time, and it also buys opportunities.
Excess cash can be powerfully applied. I’ve dreamed about creating funds for aspiring artists, building wildlife sanctuaries, financing independent films. It’s not really about the skills anymore. Money is now the major obstacle in my way. But having said that, the biggest payoffs from following this process are not financial. Most corporate workhorses I know are just that – overworked and overstressed, overweight and over-traveled.
Living “Free From Corporate America” means a strength of body and spirit. We might still work with (and for) large companies, but we know our financial security comes from our own skills and imagination. We create new opportunities to replace anything we lose. We are now able to walk away if the terms of engagement ask too much in exchange for too little.
That kind of “walk away confidence” doesn’t come easily. That’s why I wrote this book. Not just to bolster the confidence of readers, but to bolster my own. There is work ahead: I’ll be taking my own advice and focusing on screenplays, with the intention of breaking into film production. These are the assets I hope to create next. If I can pull it off, maybe I’ll be able to strike a balance between work that engages me and work that has market value.
If I can achieve that, perhaps I will finally find a version of “success” that suits me. While I was finishing this book, I stumbled on an essay about this from Maria Shriver. What she said was that the best kind of success emanates from our own power. That power takes longer to claim because it must be an external manifestation of whatever unique qualities we have – qualities that must be cultivated and then realized in the outside world. That’s not easy to find through a cookie cutter career.
There are two reasons I believe in this book. One is the importance of cultivating attitude. Work of all kinds, especially corporate work, can beat the attitude right out of us. By attitude, I’m not talking about “she has a great attitude about staying late and filing all those sales reports.” I’m talking about what performance artist Megan E. LaBonte calls “Sass” – a natural exuberance that we can take on the world without settling for less. Most of us had plenty of that when we were young, but few have aged well in that regard. Whatever we have to do to get that fierceness back is worth it. Living with more attitude (and less fear) is what “Free From Corporate America” is all about.
It may seem strange that I wrote so much about money while at the same time conceding its limitations. It’s true that a narrow pursuit of success is a trap. But I think back to that under-appreciated concept from “Jerry Maguire,” that achievement/state of mind known as “Kwan.” Kwan, as Jerry’s only client Rod Tidwell memorably explained to him, is way more than just getting paid.
In the context of Kwan, money is the manifestation of excellence, the indicator of a person in harmony with their relationships, their talent and their self-respect. Kwan is about being paid what you are worth without undue compromise. The pursuit of Kwan in a world of job insecurity is, without a doubt, a daring act. But I can’t think of anything better to shoot for.
And that’s the other reason I wrote this book: I don’t believe most corporate careers offer a chance to achieve Kwan. The personal sacrifices are too great, the financial payoffs too minimal. There has never been a better opportunity to re-invent our work lives through the entrepreneurial economy. But to pull it off, we need more than attitude – we need a method.
I have not arrived at my dreamiest goals, but the ideas in this book have already changed my life. It’s been a privilege to apply them to the problem so many of us face: forging a better life in circumstances that can seem daunting. The presence of a global labor pool will continue to encourage a “use and discard” approach to hiring – an approach that will be attractive to shareholders. It might be great news for the corporate bottom line, but it’s not such good news for folks who count on job security.
I wrote this book during the most difficult years of my adult life. But I found a way to get these chapters done because I needed to believe some dreams were not beyond my reach. There is a way to be compensated for our best work. One of our biggest jobs in life is to find it.
Along the way, perhaps we can create a new approach to work – sometimes working for larger companies, sometimes pursuing our own ventures – but always with a tactical plan that ensures we will end up owning assets instead of being owned.
Want to buy Free From Corporate America or see reviews of the final published version from readers like yourself? The printed book is now available on Amazon.com with product reviews.
You can also get a discounted version of the final book in eBook (PDF) format, or you can pick up a copy on the Kindle. The published version of the book is significantly enhanced from the web version available on this site.