It’s time to stop asking for permission to live our lives, and it’s time to stop following someone else’s set of rules.

Independence, “The Rules,” and Asking for Permission

As Independence Day approaches, Chris Guillebeau asked his Twitter followers “What does independence mean to you?”

For some people, independence means having enough money to quit their job to travel around the world, while for others it’s about having a reliable source of income and a couple weeks of vacation each year. By definition, independence is “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.”

Independence, for me, means not having to ask for permission to live my life. It’s not always easy.

The vast majority of people (myself included) are required to operate within a certain framework of rules on a daily basis. At work, there are procedures that must be followed and policies to guide our decisions. “The Rules” exist to create an environment of equality, to dictate a standard for quality, and to maintain a certain level of productivity. The Rules serve a purpose.

But the problem with rules is that they’re rules. And because “rules are rules,” the people “in charge” aren’t able to consider the needs of employees on an individual basis. A common refrain from management is “If I make an exception for you, I’d have to make an exception for everyone.” This argument is a logical fallacy (known as the Slippery Slope), but it’s often reason enough to have our needs brushed aside and ignored. Our lives are at the mercy of The Rules.

 If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission.

We’ve grown accustomed to being told what to do. For years we’ve let other people dictate our lives. We’ve been taught to follow The Rules and ask for permission. We’ve had to cancel plans to work late, missed events because we had deadlines to meet, and our entire lives are scheduled around our work schedules.

What a bunch of shit!

It’s time to stop asking for permission to live our lives, and it’s time to stop following someone else’s set of rules. It’s time we stop letting our lives be influenced by imaginary obstacles…obstacles which are little more than lame excuses we use to convince ourselves that we can’t have the life we want and are the reason we believe we have to play by the rules: money, time, security.

Here’s the truth:

You’re only limited by your own choices, and the only rules you have to follow are the ones you want to follow. You’re the only person whose permission you need to ask for. You’ve created this life, and only you have the power to change it. If you’re sick of playing by someone else’s rules, it’s time to stand up for yourself.

Demand change.

At work. From your boss. From yourself. At home. From your spouse. From your children.

It’s your life! Stop asking other people for permission to live it!

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A Job Title Doesn’t Define You

Where do we find purpose and meaning in today’s world?

For many of us, these things come from our career. Society defines who we are by our job title and often, it’s how we define ourselves. It’s true, we all have to make a living, but it’s all too common for us to also derive our value as a person based on the work we do.

We measure success with job titles and happiness by salary. The second question anyone ever asks when they meet someone new, after their name, is, “So…What do you do?”

“What do I do?” Well, I do a lot of things. A job doesn’t define who I am. It’s how I earn a living.

It’s possible to have a meaningful life, but trying to find it as a cog in the corporate machine is  futile. A job doesn’t give a person purpose or make them valuable. Purpose isn’t (or maybe I should say, shouldn’t be) derived from how we earn a living. That’s true whether you’re an entrepreneur or an office worker. Really, how anyone earns a paycheck is equally unimportant. It’s only money. It’s how we pay the bills.

It’s like trying to define someone by which hand they wipe their ass with.

Unless you’re doing something you really love, work is nothing more than a way to pay the bills. You might enjoy some of the work some of the time but when the day is over, you go home. This is where you engage in real life and it’s here where you ought to find your life purpose, with friends and family, spending time together and engaging in things that bring absolute satisfaction.

Go to work and work hard. Earn that money! But don’t, even for a minute, think a job or a position in some company is a “purpose.” Your purpose in life isn’t to earn a dollar bill.

But what about people who save puppies?

I’ll admit, there are people who do very meaningful work, but even for these people, to define themselves by their work is bad strategy. Surely there must be more to them than their career!

If you work in a career you love and are fortunate enough to be paid for doing that work, kudos to you. It’s the ideal that so many people search for their entire lives. But what about those people who will never love their job? The people who had to settle just to survive?

Or what about the people who hate their life because they loathe their job?

I’ve been there. I earned a decent wage working at a job I hated. And I let my hatred for my work infiltrate every aspect of my life, my mind and my soul, even when I wasn’t working. Why? Because I defined myself as a person by the job I had. No amount of money is worth hating life.

The point here isn’t that Corporate America is evil (even though it is), it’s that how we earn our paycheck doesn’t define who we are as people.

The Life You’ve Always Wanted?

We all have our ideas of what the “perfect life” would be like but often the images in our mind are a far cry from the reality we are living.  If you were able to travel back in time and ask a younger version of yourself if this is the future they’d choose for themselves, what would their answer be?  Twenty years ago, could you have envisioned the life you have today?  Is it everything you’d imagined or have your dreams evaporated into thin air?

Chances are, the life you are living today is nothing like the life you expected to have.  You sold your ideals for a dollar bill.  Why?  “Because that’s just what adults do.” We have to make a living to pay the bills.  There’s food to buy and television to watch.  How are we supposed to save the world when we’re up to our eyeballs in debt?  The mortgage isn’t going to pay for itself, is it?

“It is what it is.” There’s no time for dreams.  Dreams don’t pay the bills or put food on the table.  Our younger selves didn’t understand what it meant to be adults.  We have obligations now and we’ve built our lives around some idea of what it means to be a “responsible adult” in today’s world.  What we ended up with is a career that steals our time and energy, a mortgage that drains our income and debt from all the Stuff we bought to furnish and decorate our home.  We have many thousands of dollars in Student Loans and a couple of cars to pay for.  Oh yeah, and the credit cards…

It looks like being an adult isn’t all that we’ve been led to believe.  All of our lives we’ve been told that adults are “responsible”, implying that it’s somehow more virtuous to fall in line and follow the leader than it is to follow our youthful ambitions.  The “responsible” thing to do is find a job, get married and have children, buy a house and a couple of cars, then keep your nose to the grindstone until it’s finally time to retire.  When that day does come, we hope that our health will last long enough to enjoy the life of our dreams; the life we’ve been waiting our whole life to live.

And what has it all amounted to?  A garage full of Stuff we never really needed in the first place, kids that seem to resent our very existence unless we’re buying them something, a spouse that we barely seem to know anymore and a huge house we aren’t able to enjoy because we are at the office earning a paycheck to pay the mortgage.

Sure, we have all the Stuff we could ever imagine.  We drive nice cars and wear nice clothes.  Our home is decorated like a magazine cover and on the weekends we are able to relax with a cold beer in the backyard.  On the surface things seem wonderful.  A little deeper though and things don’t look as good anymore.

What are we sacrificing to create this image of the “perfect” life?  Our time, our energy, our sanity?  If the average person starts working fresh out of college at the age of 22 and retires at 67, that’s 45 years of life sold for a dollar bill.  We’re trading our life to fill our garage with junk, for a heap of metal to take us to a job so that we can pay for that same heap of metal.

What if there were a different way?  What if you didn’t have to spend your entire life working?  Would you do it?  If you knew that in 10 years you could be financially able to walk away from your job with enough money to pay for all your expenses, would you have the ambition to make it happen?

There is a way, it is possible!  The only problem – of course there’s a problem – is that to get there, you have to minimize your spending and save.  “But that’s Un-American!” Our entire lives we’ve been told to “get out there and boost the economy.”  After the attacks on September 11 we were told to go shopping as a way to stand up against terrorism.  Does that mean we’re supporting terrorism by saving money?  Of course not!

What I’m talking about isn’t a new concept.  It isn’t impossible.  It’s been done before and it’ll be done again.  And not just by a few outliers but by many thousands of people.  Will you be one of them???

What’s the secret?

Live Frugally: Cut your expenses to the bone.  Anything that doesn’t offer real value to your life is out.  That might mean going without a contracted cell phone, cable television, TiVo or Netflix.  Find alternatives or other ways to occupy your time.  It may seem impossible now but you can live without these things.

Get Out of Debt: You can’t be financially independent when you’re in debt.  Get out, get out, get out! By adopting a frugal lifestyle, the extra money you’re able to save can be applied towards eliminating your debt.  After you’ve saved up enough money to cover six months of living expenses, every penny should be thrown at your debt.

Save: Once you’ve paid off the last of your debt it’s time to save like never before.  It may take you a few years, maybe even ten or 15, to save enough money to become financially independent but that’s better than 45 years!

Invest: This is where the magic is!  With the money you’ve saved, you can invest it into conservative investment vehicles which will pay you interest in fixed intervals over a specific length of time.  If you’ve saved and invested enough, this interest will cover all of your monthly expenses.  Now your money is working for you, not the other way around!

If you’d like to learn more about the process outlined above, I recommend checking out the book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.