Four Years of Independence

Exactly four years ago today — Friday, August 22, 2008 — I “left work” for the last time. It was the last day of my last full-time job, and I’ve been independently employed ever since.

I choose to say “independently employed” rather than self-employed because over these four years I’ve been forced to accept that none of this gets done alone. I wanted to do it all alone, but I can’t. No one can.

Independence has been at the core of my identity quite possibly since I was born. Free from outside control; not depending on another’s authority. I can’t think of anything more important to me in the world — more than love, more than money, even more than my own health. That may sound extreme, but it’s how I feel.

My relationship with my parents is an unusual one, and people who’ve had a chance to get a peek into our inner circle usually come away disturbed. No there’s nothing perverted going on, relax. It’s far more subtle than that. My parents treat me, and have always treated me, as an equal. An honest-to-God equal. The way we talk to each other (with kindness and criticism), the expectations we have of each other, the room we give each other to live. This is what they call a “flat company,” not a hierarchal one. No one person is in charge.

Yes, sometimes their parental instincts (or guilt) kicks in and they temporarily try to exert their control, but those moments are few and far between. When it happens, I’m shaken to my core. Being controlled scares me more than death.

So what does this have to do with my 4th anniversary of independence? One word: freedom.

I’ve reflected on my previous years in posts littered with stats on client numbers and financial earnings and days spent traveling. Because that’s how I’ve been measuring my growth: quantitatively. It always felt wrong, but I kept doing it. Mostly because I had no clue how else it could be done.

And only in the last year, my senior year in college terms, has it become clear. I wish to measure my life in freedom.

Freedom: the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint; the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity

The degree of freedom I’m feeling and exhibiting is proportional to the impact I’m capable of making on the world. How can that be? Because like most people, how I feel about myself greatly affects how I treat others. When I feel held back, oppressed, controlled, dependent, I lack inspiration and motivation. I lack the desire to affect positive change. I lack self-confidence. I, in many ways, stop being me.

So for the last year, I have optimized my life to experience the greatest possible freedom. You know what buys freedom? Time.

Being well aware of my mortality and purpose, I put a very high value on my time. This year I reaffirmed the decision I made a long time ago to only work with people who value their time just as highly. The amount of their own time they are willing to invest in our collaboration demonstrates their commitment to themselves and to me. I believe this is the key to a successful partnership.

Putting a lot more stock in the time I spend with others has allowed me to put a lot more stock in the time I spend with myself. I eat healthier, I read more, I daydream about the future. I no longer pack my schedule like I owe something to the world. The person I owe something to is me. Funny how long it took for me to figure that one out.

What I used to think bought freedom: money. I was very wrong. Money buys nothing but obligation.

Money is only a proxy, and its worth is fleeting. It does not have the power to help you make better choices with how you spend your time; all it does it gives you ways to spend it. Those ways rarely pay off in the long-term. Money creates expectation, abundance, liability, assumption — all of the negative aspects of commitment with none of the positive ones. Time, on the other hand, reduces all of those things. It gives you space. It gives you progress. It gives you possibility.

The interesting thing about time is that it’s all relative; it exists only in proportion to something else. Which means this: time itself has no meaning without two beings experiencing it. There is me, and then there is you. Our experience of our own passing existence is only possible because of the other.

I wouldn’t be writing this post, making my living this way, living the life that I live, if it weren’t for the emotional support and encouragement of the people I am surrounded by. More accurately: who I surround myself with. It’s a choice, every day. I choose to spend my time with positive, whole, passionate, intelligent, complex, inspiring people. They know what matters to them and their life choices reflect that. They don’t have to be famous or rich or powerful to the rest of the world because when they look inside themselves, that’s what they see.

I have achieved nothing by myself, that’s why I’m not self-employed. I’m employed by the world and I am paid in time. I hope to be blessed with a lot of it. Whatever I do get, I will expand it to its fullest, and I will revel in my freedom, in my independence, and in me.

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  1. says

    Funny, I just tripped over this blog while doing a Bing search for Alan Alda, but I’m really glad I did…this post is fantastic. I’ve always wanted to start my own business, always wanted to start down the path of “independent employment,” but I don’t think I’ve valued my time enough individually…I only prioritize projects when they have to do with someone else’s time or resources, and I always end up overworking/overdedicating myself and burning out in the process. But I think to get anywhere, to be really successful I’ll have to start learning how to treat my time like a valuable commodity.

    Very insightful and eye-opening post. Thanks for it!


  1. […] recently wrote about how I’ve become much better at designing my own time. Recognizing the infinite options with which to spend it, having a clearer sense of what makes me […]

  2. […] about time spent. I came across a blog post (Four Years of Independence) by Whitney Hess, where she explores the idea that time – not money, buys true freedom; it […]

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