Freedom Vs Security
In a Western world where democracy is the rule, people talk frequently and passionately about freedom. We call it liberty, and it is in America an “unalienable right.” But a question remains for so many of us — are we free? And beyond that question, below it and deeper than it, is another question — what does it mean to be free?
If I am in chains, then I am not free; if I am incarcerated or restrained by law then I am not free. But what of the restraints that we don’t see? The ways in which many of us feel restricted by our jobs, our communities’ values, our state institutions, and the economy that we are forced to take part it. We must obey the laws, we must pay our taxes, we must — in man cases — answer to our bosses, and we risk alienation if we express values that depart to drastically from the people’s around us. Is this the freedom that we enjoy?
For many people, being free simply means being able to have the job that you choose and are qualified for, having the time and the space to do some of the things you love, enjoying your family, owning your home, and avoiding too much debt. An occasional weekend night out helps. But for some of us, freedom is deeper than that. It means not being under anyone’s thumb, and not having to do or say things that oppose your individual set of values. If that is the standard, then most of us are not free at all.
It is, however, possible to move in the direction of radical freedom. It can begin with a new job. There are ways of making money that allow you the time to do what you want to do, what you are passionate about, and that don’t require you to go to an office, wake up at any particular time, work at any particular time, or answer directly to an overseeing manager or boss. These jobs are types of self-employment that increase your freedom. You still have to pay taxes, but it is a start.
If you are lucky to be your own boss and have hit gold with, for instance, a successful startup company or a popular website, then you will have traded nothing for your freedom but the encumbering forces you were trying in the first place to avoid. But most of us are not so lucky, and so we use the skills we have, and the virtual marketplace, to make as much money as we can with the maximum amount of freedom in our lives.
This means making a trade. It means trading some kind of security for a lot of liberty. If you are working in a virtual marketplace, you are almost never guaranteed a particular income or a particular amount of work. Even when you are, you are likely not to receive benefits, not to get bonuses, not to have any real long-term job security, and your taxes won’t be taken out for you (which is a headache). But that security — the security that you trade — is for many digital nomads worth giving up to gain a new kind of life. The life of a free worker, self-driven, working wherever they choose, answering to themselves, is rewarding, creative, and fun. And it affords you a freedom that few will ever know. If you are fortunate enough to have a skill that is marketable in this way, then it is a great option.
But you will, most certainly, make less money than you would make at your 401k-accruing office job. This is the real sense in which you are trading security for freedom. You may be able to make enough money to live, and sometimes take some time off, but you will likely (unless you are very lucky) never be wealthy, or even in the middle class. The question is — is that ok with you? Is the middle class life something that you want or is it precisely what you are trying to avoid? At bottom, this comes down to a simple question, and it has been asked before: how much money do you need? How much do you need to live, and how much — more importantly perhaps — do you need to be happy
Working To Live
There is an image of paradise, that goes back in the West to the Greek myth of Elysian, in which happiness occurs when there is no longer any pain. In Homer, Elysium had no storms. But in the real world, in the life that we all know, paradise has a ground that shakes and swells, and sometimes the floods overwhelm us. This is the way of things, and there is no amount of money that can make us secure against the possibility of inevitable problems. We will sometimes be unhappy. But to live joyfully, to be happy in the most general sense, is to make a life for yourself in which you can absorb whatever storms come your way and celebrate the times when the skies are clear. Most of us don’t have these sorts of lives, even if we have “good” jobs that give us “security.”
In 2017, most people live to work. They spend their time sweating or sitting in traffic to get the paycheck they think they need. But it is possible to work to live — to have a job that enables happiness rather than replaces it. This may mean making less money, but if you consider how much you really need, apart from what you assume you should have for “financial security” then you will find that a free live, a happy life, can be had with far less money than you think. The specific amount you have to make will vary, but you can most likely make it in a job that affords you the kind of freedom that so many of us want. How much do you need to make to be happy? However much you can make and still be free.
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