Being rich vs. being free

Ever since I graduated from high school and worked my first jobs, my goal has been to have to do as little of that as possible in my life. 

My first work experiences was toiling away 8 hours a day in an office or a restaurant. That didn’t exactly match the vision I had for my life. 

So somewhere along the way, I developed I longing for freedom. Freedom from early mornings and crowded commutes. Freedom from complaining customers and controlling managers. Freedom from the rat race and the hamster wheel of working for someone else.

And in my mind, there was only one way out of that: money.

I decided to become rich. 

Becoming rich was my destiny, and by achieving it, I would automatically be free from all that 9-5 bullshit. 

So I started researching very intensely. I read every book I could find on success, business, entrepreneurship and personal finances. And I quickly learned three things:

  1. It’s very difficult, and will take a long time, to become even moderately rich as an employee. 
  2. In order to become really rich, you need to provide big value to as many people as possible.
  3. The most efficient way to provide value is via entrepreneurship. Not by working for someone else, not by freelancing by the hour, but by owning your own business and delivering value in a scalable way with as few middlemen as possible. 

That was it. I needed to become an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship was the path to infinite riches.

I started hustling. Gradually transitioning from an employee into a freelancer, and from a freelancer into a business owner. I co-founded my first startup. I built my first blogs. I worked harder than ever.

Being self-employed is no cake walk. There are some serious downsides to it.

I sometimes feel very stressed out and vulnerable. Even when things are going well, I can’t really lean back and relax because “what about the future?”

There is always something to freak out about as a business owner. And if you’re anxiety-prone like me, you will find yourself freaking out on a regular basis:

“Business is too slow.”
“Business is overwhelming.”
“Not enough steady work, have to find clients.”
“Too much steady work, can’t work on my own projects.”
“I’m procrastinating too much.”
“I’m working too much.”
“What if I fail?”
“What if I succeed?”

This is the reason I have sometimes felt tempted back into employment...

Finding a comfortable workplace with friendly coworkers and great coffee. Enjoying a steady routine and salary. Being able to pay my bills each month without a knot in my stomach.

And these fantasies have at times led me to give in and take a job.

But after a few months of employment, it’s always the same story: I stagnate. I become lazy and disengaged. I only do the bare minimum. I kill time at the office. I start to say things like “Thank god it’s Friday”.

All pretty common behavior at workplaces, and something one might even take comfort in because it’s familiar and safe and secure. 

Is “safe and secure” really what I want my life to be like? No. That's not how you grow. "Safe and secure" does not make for a live well lived.

But I don’t want to be a workaholic entrepreneur either. 

After 12 years of employments, dead-end jobs, startup hustling and freelancing, I’ve realized a few important things:

  • Even if entrepreneurship is the road to bigger riches, it still takes an insane amount of sacrifice, risk and hard work. And if you're not careful, it can make you even less free that as an employee.
  • If you want to become rich, you can’t be motivated by freedom, you need to be motivated by money. You need to be deeply interested in numbers and love to work in Excel sheets. (Or at least be able to look at them without getting an allergic reaction.) Otherwise, you would never be able to put up with all of the stress and anxiety and responsibility that making money entails. 
  • The amount of money in my account have had a very little impact on my overall happiness. I’ve spent money when I’ve had it, but spending money doesn’t bring any lasting enjoyment. I have been perfectly happy just being able to pay my bills and buy groceries. 

Quality of life has very little to do with money. It’s all about lifestyle and values.

Whether you are working for someone else or are self-employed: If you have a job that constricts you, suffocates you, or demands that you work all the time: it doesn’t matter how much money you make. You won’t have time to enjoy it. You won’t be free.

In hindsight, I've realized that I had everything I wanted all along.

I have been working mainly from home for years, earning as much or sometimes more, as when I’ve been employed. I could always have worked more to earn more, but most of the time I have chosen not to. I have slept for as long as I've wanted to in the mornings. I have enjoyed working whenever and from whereever I've felt like. I have been free

It’s so very human: not seeing the forest for the trees. Being so hell-bent on a goal that we forget what it is we truly want.

A lot of people think that they crave wealth when what they really crave is freedom.

You don’t have to be rich to be free. You can be free on a very humble income.

And even if I’d still love to earn a bit more money, (like most of us), I will never again do it at the cost of my freedom.