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Cut the Cubicle Umbilical Cord: The Seven Traits of the Free Man

Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead.

If you want to wake up happy on a daily basis, you have to own your own time. You have to be the one that dictates what you do and when you do it. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of your owner boss.

You may think that you should be grateful for your job, and you should. But when it comes down to it, you’re not going to hit a ceiling of happiness and purpose if you’re not working for yourself. (I know there may be a few exceptions, but let’s be honest, they are exceptions.)

There’s no getting around this.

But working for yourself is a scary idea, right? No one to tell you what to do every day. No one to say when you can go to the bathroom and when you can eat lunch. No one to tell you what to wear or who to talk to.

Taking off the leash is frightening when you’ve worn it for so long.

Here’s the clincher, here’s the real mind-blower: Most of us don’t even think we have leashes around our neck at all. Most of us think that we’re in control.

But we’re not.

Let’s take a look at how this typically breaks down:

Do you really think you have job security? You have no control over whether your company goes under. That is not job security.

So what’s the difference between a renegade and the average cubicle citizen?

It’s mindset.

It’s astonishing that this makes difference between the people that end up being “lifers” at a company (by default), and gives up on their dreams vs. those who steer their own course and live their dreams.

What’s the gap between dreams being fantasy and reality? Obviously, it’s a matter of action. But, what makes the free man take action where the cubicle citizen recoils? This is the question that has been burning in my mind for some time. This mindset makes the difference between success and near certain failure.

We all have these traits in us; it’s just a matter of cultivation and practice for them to become fully expressed.

Here are the seven things you can do now.

1. Reclaim your mind.

This might seem a little strange, right? Who would think that they don’t own their own mind? The truth is that most of us live with partially free minds. We act on our intentions as long as our comfort zone is not violated. We rebel when the risk is minimal.

In order to reclaim ownership of your mind (and stop renting it out) you have to demand of yourself nothing short of a completely free, unadulterated mind. Underline this in your mind: “I won’t let anyone else have control or dictate the contents of my mind. Only I have that power.”

2. Put yourself on auto-response.

The ability of the leader to take action, despite not having a clear course, is a highly coveted skill in the entrepreneurial world. A leader takes action while others wait around for the situation to become more favorable. He has the “auto-response” of “I’ll figure it out.” When faced with a tough decision, or unclear path, he takes action instead of waiting for orders.

The more you’re able to take action despite having all the facts, the faster you’ll get results. You’ll adjust your course when you make mistakes and ultimately get there much faster than the person waiting around for the perfect plan to materialize.

3. Think holistically.

All of our decisions are interconnected. A choice in our health could create an improvement in our productivity. A shift in our spiritual practice can cultivate a calm state, where your focus increases. A move toward working for yourself will dramatically impact your freedom of time and movement, and greatly improve your happiness. All of our decisions are interconnected and a smart renegade knows this. She tries to make high leverage holistic decisions that will have a ripple effect across all aspects of her life.

Think holistically. See how the changes in all areas of your life impact each other, not just in business, but in the areas of health, fitness, finances, mental/emotional and spirituality.

4. Question authority.

Too much skepticism will make you unbalanced, and will honestly probably turn you into a conpiracy-theory nutcase. A healthy amount of skepticism, on the other hand, is essential to working intelligently.

One of the oldest living renegades, Siddhartha Gautama (also known as the Buddha) once said, “Do not believe anything that you’ve been told, unless it agrees with your own common sense.” The same advice applies 2,000 years later. Listen to yourself first, before you listen to the experts. Test before you assume.

5. Focus on interdependency.

We all have certain communities of people or tribes that we naturally connect with and are attracted to. Seek out these people, help them, start conversations with them. These are the people that are most likely to identify with you, therefore the most likely to also support and promote your work.

Find a way to connect with influential leaders or members of your tribe today. Whether it be through sending them a message on twitter, contacting them through their blog or emailing them directly. And if you can, try to get one of these people to mentor you. It can’t hurt to ask and you’ll be surprised at how genuinely helpful some of these people can be.

6. Defrost your passion.

If you’ve been stuck in a cubicle-farm for some time, or have been in a less than ideal work situation, you’ve probably given up hope on some level. Being surrounded with people you’d rather not work with, grey walls, no windows and bad coffee tends to dampen your spirits. This dispirited condition may have progressed so far that you have trouble remembering what it’s like to be excited about your life.

That’s got to change. It’s time to reconnect with what you’re truly passionate about and wake up to the possibility that you can start making your own rules. Life doesn’t have to be a struggle of paying your dues with the occasional bit of fun. Realize that you don’t have to live in the way you think is required.

7. Be ridiculous.

There’s obviously a certain societal value to being practical. But what’s easily overlooked is the value of being highly impractical. You have to be willing to take risks, and keep your head in the clouds to be a successful trailblazer. You have to strike a balance between having roots (practicality) and wings (innovating).

Realize that all major revolutions in the world were first seen as crazy, ridiculous and absurd. If you want to innovate, you’ll have to accept that the majority of the population will view you as a lunatic. You secretly know, though, that your level of lunacy is quite possibly your most valuable skill.

Working for yourself forces you to grow

One of the coolest things about entrepreneurship is that it’s one of the biggest catalysts for personal growth. Starting your own business is one of the most meaningful rights of passage you can go through. It will challenge you. It will make you question yourself and force you to get really clear about your purpose and what you want to contribute. It boosts your confidence and your intelligence.

But most of all, it makes you feel proud of yourself at the end of the day.

This article was written by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead of Illuminated Mind.

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