This Is How You Buy Back Your Freedom

Less of that gives you more of this

Larry Cornett, Ph.D.
Nov 5 · 9 min read
Cabin near mountains in Italy
Cabin near mountains in Italy
Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash

I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. As a child, I knew that it was a pervasive issue. Even though I never felt like we were poor, we had to be careful about purchases. We owned one family car that we bought used. We maintained a strict budget for groceries, clothing, and more.

However, my parents worked very hard to provide for us so that we never went without the necessities. We had a roof over our heads. We always had healthy, home-cooked meals on the table. We had new clothes purchased for the school year.

I know that this came at a price, though. My father would work overtime on nights and weekends. Sometimes, he would have to leave to work during holiday celebrations. I remember times when my father would work nights at a second job.

So, I grew up with a vision that wealth was a critical goal for my life. I thought that money was the solution to all problems. I knew that I had better get a college degree to land a job that paid well.

My peers and I talked about making good money so that we could buy “nice things.” Owning a big home, a luxury car, and lots of “toys” (e.g., motorcycles, boats, jet skis) was a sign that you had “made it.”

The trap of the American dream

Our culture reinforces this consumerism at every turn. You must go to college. The bigger the name, the better.

You must buy a new car. Why are you wearing last year’s fashion? You’d better take a vacation that is worthy of stories you’ll tell all of your friends later.

Follow the Instagram of the people who travel the world, drive luxury sports cars, party on yachts, and drink fine wine every evening.

I’m not the only one who got sucked into this trap.

“Where did my singular focus on building a billion-dollar company come from in the first place? I think I inherited it from a society that worships wealth. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Bill Gates was my all-time hero and the world’s richest person. Ever since I can remember, I’ve equated “success” with net worth. If I heard someone say “that person’s really successful,” I didn’t assume they were improving the well-being of those around them, but that they’d found a way to make a ton of cash.” — Sahil Lavingia, Founder of Gumroad

I chased this dream for many years. I got the requisite college degree. Then, I decided to continue and get a Ph.D.

I first moved to the Bay Area in 1993 when I was working for IBM. I spent more time in Silicon Valley in 1995, which was the first time I worked for Apple.

I fell in love with the energy and beauty of the area, so we moved back permanently while I was finishing my dissertation in 1996. We put down roots, started a family, and settled in for the long haul — or so I thought.

Over the next 20 years, my career advanced, and I enjoyed the fruits of all of that hard work. I am thankful for the experiences I had working in Tech.

I worked with many brilliant and outstanding people. I learned so much and developed professionally in ways that probably wouldn’t have been possible without my corporate roles.

But, I got caught up in that crazy pursuit of wealth that became pervasive in Silicon Valley around the midpoint of my time there. Almost everyone wanted to be part of a big IPO. Many of us wanted to live the “good life.”

So, I bought the big house. Bought the luxury car. Went on trips to Paris, London, Barcelona, Tokyo, Shanghai, and more.

I had all the stuff you were supposed to have to feel happy and successful. The only thing I didn’t have was “me.” There was no time to be me and spend my days doing what I really wanted to do.

To live this ideal consumer lifestyle, I became a ladder-climbing workaholic. I sold my time, health, and freedom so that I could buy nice things and live the fancy life.

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” ― Chuck Palahniuk

I was aware of what was happening to me, but I thought the sacrifice was worth it for my family. I thought I was giving them everything that they wanted and needed. However, the Bay Area was growing and changing.

Traffic became an increasingly worse nightmare. It reached a point where we couldn’t even leave our house on the weekends because we’d be stuck in the snarl of beach traffic on Highway 17.

We were trapped in a cage of our own making. I was stuck in a lifestyle and career with no wiggle room. It seemed like the only solution was to work even harder and keep moving up.

But, one day, I guess I snapped. I realized that living in a supposedly fantastic area surrounded by the beauty of California was pointless.

My life primarily consisted of working long hours, commuting on the freeway 3–4 hours every day, and frequently staying in my home on the weekends. Trying to go anywhere meant hours and hours of crawling through traffic.

Long story short, I came to my senses and rejected all of it.

Buying back my freedom

I knew that a radical change in lifestyle would only be possible if we tapped out of the rat race. We had to escape the cult of materialism.

“Hey, did you put a deposit down on the new Tesla yet? You gotta get one, man! It’s only $99K.”

I began exploring minimalism and discovered that it would enable me to have what I want more than anything else: freedom. Dialing back materialism has given me back what little time I have left in this world.

Every minute that I control how I spend my day is worth it. Rather than buying the latest and greatest luxury items, I buy my time and freedom.

It started with making a tremendously difficult decision to move out of the Bay Area of California. We knew that I would never be able to leave my old career behind and start something new, with the financial burden of living in Silicon Valley.

We started researching other communities and looking for a new home. We wanted to be away from crowds, traffic, and pollution. Being close to nature was essential to us.

We have always enjoyed our time in the Sierra Nevada mountains; summer and winter. The vacations there never felt long enough. I dreaded returning to work in the city.

We asked ourselves, “What if we lived here instead of just vacationing here? Life is short. What are we waiting for?

So, we sold our large home and downsized to a house half the size, closer to Lake Tahoe. However, that also meant that we had to reduce our possessions considerably.

I can’t believe how much crap we had accumulated over the past 25 years. What they say is true; every time you move into a larger home, you fill the space. So, we donated and sold more than half of our belongings.

Bye-bye, fancy BMW. Hello, old Toyota pickup.

I also sold my luxury BMW and bought a used Toyota Tercel for $500 (thanks, neighbor!). A couple of years ago, I purchased an old 4WD Toyota pickup, too (which makes more sense up here in the winter). However, it was a tiny fraction of the cost of that damn BMW. That was a stupid and vain acquisition.

Now, we no longer have a mortgage. We don’t pay rent. We don’t have any car payments. We have reduced our monthly burn rate dramatically.

We’re not finished either. I want to keep simplifying our lives. I’ve had my eye on tiny homes and even this cute little thing. A diminutive travel camper could be possible after our last child graduates and moves out.

Happier Camper

So, yes, we gave up our shiny toys and status symbols. We tapped out of the hustle, bustle, and excitement of being in the center of the Tech universe. The hardest part — I will admit — is that we left many dear friends behind, which was painful.

However, in return, I no longer crawl through traffic for up to four hours every day to sit in an office for 10–12 hours. I’m no longer locked into a career path with no flexibility (gotta keep going up, up, up!).

Plus, we get to see this view every morning (see photos below) and can be hiking in the forest within minutes. We’ve embraced a slower, calmer lifestyle that was only made possible when we decided to stop keeping up with the Joneses.

The view in our new neighborhood

This downsizing process gave me breathing room to start a new business here and let it grow naturally. With my prior companies in Silicon Valley, I was always under pressure to grow faster and make more and more money.

We bought back our freedom by giving up a lifestyle that had chained us to my old career. My previous profession had locked me into a location we couldn’t escape.

I was only able to walk away and start something new because we went all-in on living more simply with significantly lower overhead. Living below our means gave us endless options.

Downsizing set us free.

Downsize your life

We started simplifying our life about four years ago, and we are far from done. I know that downsizing is not an easy process. However, it is a simple mindset.

  • Want less
  • Buy less
  • Own less
  • Make do with less

Remove the shackles of financial obligations so that you live where you want, work where, when, and how you want, and have the freedom to choose where and how you spend your days.

“Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.” — The Minimalists

Embrace your newfound freedom

I’m semi-retired now, but I no longer dream about full retirement and being set free from my working days. Now that I run my own business helping others, I love my work.

It is fulfilling and energizing. It adds value to my life.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Keep the people, things, and experiences that add positive value to your life.

Weed out everything that brings negativity into your life.

Downsize your possessions, streamline your life, and eliminate anything that might be chaining you to a job you hate, a career that stresses you, and a lifestyle that makes you unhappy.

Hey, I’m not saying that you hate your job or your current life. Maybe you’re thrilled with what you do and how you live. If things are working out for you, keep it up and enjoy it!

But, if you’re not happy and you can’t make changes because you’ve backed yourself into a financial corner, it’s time to take a hard look at the choices you’re making.

Evolve your lifestyle to give you the wiggle room and power you need to make the right choices and take full control of your career and life. I call it becoming invincible because it does start to feel like you are.

Read more of the free career advice that I share with over 1,500 smart job seekers every week. Check out my leadership and career coaching at Brilliant Forge.

Larry Cornett is a Leadership Coach and Career Advisor. He lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, a Great Dane, a chicken, and a stubborn old cat. He shares advice that helps you become an opportunity magnet, so the best things in life come to you! You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram @cornett.

Invincible Career

Invincible Career® stories that help you become an opportunity magnet so the best things in life come to you!

Larry Cornett, Ph.D.

Written by

I help you become an opportunity magnet so the best things in life come to you! | Fast Company

Invincible Career

Invincible Career® stories that help you become an opportunity magnet so the best things in life come to you!

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