Independence Isn’t Freedom


Independence isn’t freedom, or at least it’s not freedom from everything. Independence is the acceptance of a lot of responsibilities.

Independence Isn’t Freedom

In 1776, a bunch of people in the new world that became America signed a Declaration of Independence. That document didn’t say, “Okay, so things are about to get a lot easier.” They were surrendering their financial support, their governance, ties with many supply chains, and much more. Yes, they had good reason. It was a bad deal. But my point is that for those people to take that stance is almost always portrayed as a breath of fresh air. “Hooray! We’re free.”

The Independence of America was one of those moments in time when people swallowed the red pill. (Yes, sure. I just compared the American Revolution to The Matrix. Why not?)

The Remover of Obstacles

Ganesh (the elephant god in the picture above) is called the remover of obstacles. He represents the forces in our universe that help us reach our goals. When I started learning about various Hindu deities, I was told by more than a few people to look at these gods as external manifestations of internal traits. Thus, if I’m praying to Ganesha, I’m asking myself to dig deep and find my own capability to remove obstacles. (Not being a Hindu scholar, you’re welcome to split hairs, but maybe don’t, and just go with me on this.)

Choosing one’s own path, declaring independence from a previous path, is a moment when you are forced to dig deep and find inside yourself a whole series of new capabilities.

The Business of Independence is Expensive

Shortly after the “Founding Fathers” declared America to be a free agent, we almost went broke. We had to beg for a lot of money from a lot of neighbors who asked for a lot in return for the loot. Think about it: the ink is barely dry on a document that says we’ve asked our rich bosses to let us work from home, and then we start asking people for loans. “We’ll pay you back. Honest!”

America was quite an unlikely startup in a lot of ways. The people who gave the country money did so because they could see a lot of potential in the untapped resources and real estate that was here, but even that wasn’t a sure thing. Imagine owning a strip mall in the middle of a swamp. It was hard to supply, and though the location would maybe turn out okay with some land adaptation, success was not a guarantee.

Independence is a Difficult Path

To choose to be independent means having to source your own success over and over. It means building a great deal of infrastructure (mental, physical, spiritual, financial) to support your direction. And it is not a destination, but rather the hallway that connects dependence and interdependence. It’s written that independence is a state of self-governance and sovereignty. Think about those two terms. Self-governance is actually a whole ball of responsibility, as is the choice to be your own king.

You’re not free from worry, not free from responsibility, not free from challenges or hardships or the possibility of failure. You’re not free from much. You’ve simply signed (literally or figuratively) onto the notion that you’d like to steer the ship’s ultimate direction, for better or worse.

To those who’ve chosen independence in some (or all) facets of their lives, I salute you, because it’s a difficult choice. But the rewards are often worth it. runs on the Genesis Framework

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  • Greg Herman

    A sales manager once told me, “Freedom is a scary thing for most people. Few people can operate at work without being told what to do.” I thought he was wrong at first, then I looked around at all the commissioned sales reps who worked 4 – 6 hours a day and spent most of that time on smoke breaks or visiting their neighbors desk. I think a lot of sales departments are like that.

    • Chris Brogan

      He would be right. Look at all the happy baristas out there. Sales departments are a great way to see independence being used oddly.

  • Charles H. Green

    Interesting and useful take on the 4th. Reminds me of something related a dear friend of mine often says: blame is captivity – responsibility is freedom.

    I think he means much like what I take you to mean. Saying “I’m free” means more than “I’m loose.” It means we’ve got responsibilities. And until we shoulder those responsibilities, we’re not really free of much at all, we’re just loose.

    But if we can take on the responsibilities, then we’re free in a much larger sense – to take charge of our destinies and to do something about them.

    • Chris Brogan

      That’s a really neat quote. I’m in total agreement. I’ve never been a big friend of blame.

  • stephen steve q shannon

    Chris, I just this moment finished reading THE GOAL by Eli Goldratt. A new client challenged me to read it. That’s all I needed. I Kindled it and vowed to absorb it before our next telcon tomorrow at 8pm USET. In the unlikely event you have not experienced it, it’s all about removing obstacles and not just in a manufacturing environment. Zowie. Your post today, July 4, 2012 dovetails perfectly with my quick read, THE GOAL. Thank you! Your advocate in Delray Beach FL Stephen “Steve’ Q

    • Chris Brogan

      Sounds like a wonderfully considered premise, Stephen. And thanks from your advocate in Boston. : )

  • Christopher Somers

    I salute you as well ! Great perspective on the 4th. Independence is something to work for, to be proud of and to keep.

    • Chris Brogan

      And, it’s a verb as much as it’s a noun. We have to earn it daily by respecting it.

  • Amy Kocur

    Really clever piece and very wise. Thanks!

    • Chris Brogan

      Thanks, Amy. I appreciate you stopping by today.

  • Eunice Coughlin

    Very good post but this is a deep topic, surely there’s a Part 2 in the works? If not, there should be! So many failed entrepreneurs (like me) have a desire for independence but just like Greg Herman quoted, few people know how to function at work without being told what to do.

    • Chris Brogan

      Why don’t you write part 2 and I’ll read it. : ) That seems fair.

  • tojosan

    Strong post Chris. I believe freedom scares the crap out folks.

    • Andrzej Tucholski

      Freedom always means that you have to be the leader of something new, even if it’s “only” your own life. Full control, full responsibility.

  • Mary Ulrich

    You post reminded me of the old Up With People song, “Feedom isn’t free.” I also agree that there is no such thing as independence–only interdependence. 3rd thing: Hope this isn’t disrespectful to anyone, but wondered if the phrase, “How do you eat an elephant?” with the answer, “one bite at a time” referred to Ganesh, the god of removing obstacles?

    • Chris Brogan

      Oh, I think there’s independence. I just don’t think it’s the best end-goal, as explained to me by Covey. As for Ganesh and elephant eating, I don’t know if it’s offensive, but I know it’s probably what he would say, if asked. : )

  • Andrew

    Many of us would rather live oppressed lives and let others control us.

    • Chris Brogan

      The red pill in the Matrix.

  • Judy Martin

    Happy Holiday Chris,
    “Sourcing our own success” that just shoots the point home. I feel like we don’t give ourselves permission to go deeper into who we are as spiritual conscious beings in business. Not to get all woo woo – but truly from that place of inner stillness – mixed with just a little creative tension – somehow all things become possible and work looks more like “vocation.”

    Ganesh, who resides to the height of 4 feet in my home, is like a big totem. As you said, it’s truly the traits of these deities that one embodies and strives for. Ganesh, the remover of all obstacles comes along with an interesting mantra: Om Gum Ganapati Namaha. (there are many) but the point is that we have to create our own mantras for success. Our own totems, trinkets, affirmations….

    Whether it’s removing that which keeps us from our greatness, or a need for more creativity in the arts, writing music (that would be Saraswati) It’s up to us to individually grab on to those anchors that remind us of who we are. The inner strategies that catapult us forward with the velocity necessary to succeed.
    Love that you took on this topic Chris, Happy Fourth, @judymartin8

    • Chris Brogan

      We agree on so much, Judy. Thanks for dropping by and adding such great flavor to the post with your thoughtful comments. : )

    • Ruth Barringham

      Wow! This the most impressive and thought-provoking comment I’ve ever read on a blog.

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  • Raul Colon

    Living in a place where a few confused ones celebrate independence even though we are the oldest colony in the world their is even more confusion when you tie both terms together. As @tojosan:disqus said it scares the crap of people here the fear factor gets multiplied many times.

    The other day someone ask me why not return to work for the Firms I use to work with. Some of them I know I am a call away from having a job with them. Since my economic situation use to be better I guess it gave me some freedoms and less worries but I was not independent.

    I like being independent because as you said the opportunities and privilege I get to work with great people gives me the freedom of approaching many other things. Yes I might have less freedom on some occasions when paying the bills etc but those are material things. I rather have freedom of thought and an opportunity to make my small world better so eventually that propagates and makes the world of those around me better! Great post!

    • Chris Brogan

      You and Hector had similar takes. It’s interesting to learn more about the mindset. I appreciate your thinking.

      • Raul Colon

        Funny I met Hector through Google+ he lives not very far from me. I am going to have to schedule Coffee with him. Have an awesome week!

  • Runner Bliss

    Indeed, everything comes at a cost. Every choice, every decision. Also, “Nothing’s free — you just haven’t received the invoice yet”…hmm, now where did I see that… :)

    • Chris Brogan

      Great quote. : )

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  • Brian Kevin Johnston

    Thanks for this post… So darned true… Have a Blessed 4th!

  • Hector Alfredo MIllan

    Both independence and freedom are complicated concepts in Puerto Rico, we still having colonial status and all. Opinions, from both “estadidad” (statehood) and “independentista” (independence) perspectives, are very fear-driven. It may have to do with a contrast between the fear of not being able to sustain ourselves independantly as a nation and the fear of losing our identity and culture. This boils down on an individual level to a mental freedom conflict that afftects local commerce, our economy as a system.

    We as a people are high on the drugs of welfare and corporate jobs, both of which have sickened our society as we face the withdrawal symptoms provoked by a changing global economy. And as international corporations operating here have closed entire departments, many have plunged by necessity into opening small businesses. Although there has always been a struggling local commerce, the mass of new businesses now joins in the effort to compete against monsters like Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Home Depot, and such, who open new stores every other mile effortlessly. Ironically enough, gaining the local’s support has been a rough ride, for we are all still hooked on the corporate concept.

    So removing the obstacles, although seen here more popularly (and personally) as a purpose-driven concept reinforced through symbols such as the cross, IS a difficult path. A lot of it has to do with facing fears, and this is not very attractive until one is forced to contemplate on issues of survival and personal integrity.

    • Chris Brogan

      Hector: want to know what’s true? The mainland is high on the same two drugs. Along the way of building this great country from nothing, many have lost the realization that work and jobs aren’t synonymous, and that we don’t need to have a corporate job to make a living and a life.

      I don’t consider big companies the enemy. I just think that we don’t all have to polish a cubicle to succeed.

      • Hector Alfredo MIllan

        I’m with you.
        By the way, great post.

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  • Ryan Hanley

    Freedom /= Easy…

    That is a powerful thought on an important day. Too many of our countrymen and countrywomen have forgotten this simple fact.

    Thank you Chris… Have a great Holiday!


  • Marcia Reynolds

    “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When I’m free, I perceive that I have more choices.

    I agree with you that independence is different. It means I’m not dependent on anyone else, which means I have to now take care of myself.

    Freedom is about release. Independence is about taking on responsibilities.

    Nice distinction.

    • Natalie Sisson

      Well summarized Marcia. My motto is creating freedom in business and adventure in life so this post was well received and totally in line with my ideals on life.

    • Chris Brogan

      You wrote that better than my post. : ) Thank you.

    • Emma McCreary

      Can’t you take care of yourself AND be dependent on other people…I think independence as you are naming it is an illusion. In the minute I spent writing this comment, I am depending on everyone at Disqus, WordPress, StudioPress, and whatever host Chris is using…as well as depending on the air I breathe, the food I ate this morning that came from the store, and farmers, etc, etc…I think you get my point. We can never be “independent”. We need to learn to be free *within* the context of being utterly dependent on each other and on the natural world.

  • deepti

    hey chris
    your observances on ganesha are very fine.
    lord ganesha is also worshipped on the new beginning of anything to bring auspiciouness
    . its so ccool that you are inspired by the hindu & indian culture!

    happy iday to you.

    • Chris Brogan

      Thanks, Deepti. I wonder if you agree that Lord Ganesha is maybe the “easiest” of the Hindu deities to understand. Maybe the most “accessible.” Does that make sense?

      • deepti

        yes he is!! we like to call him a ” versatile” god!

  • Ruby Renshaw

    honest, thought provoking post Chris – thank you!

    • Chris Brogan

      Very kind, Ruby. Thank you!

  • Valerie

    I’m going to save this and show it to the many people who think freelancing is an easy path exempt from accountability, authority and stress.

    • Chris Brogan

      That’s probably a good idea. It’s not easy, but that’s what makes it wonderful. : )

      • Emma McCreary

        Do you think something has to be a struggle to be worthwhile?

  • Emma McCreary

    I think you are mixing up independence and self-reliance. Independence = I choose the direction I/we go in. Self-reliance = I’m going to make it happen all by myself.

    • Chris Brogan

      I used a real dictionary. Honest. :)

  • Amy Miyamoto

    This really jumped out at me: “And it is not a destination, but rather the hallway that connects dependence and interdependence.” And for some reason I see a bridge rather than a hallway.
    This concept of interdependence is an important one to carefully consider and will become increasingly important as we move into the future. When more and more individuals begin to choose to take full responsibility for every aspect of lives AND make conscious choices to connect with and work intentionally and interdependently with other individuals and organizations in collaborative co-creation – then some very exciting things will become possible.

    • Chris Brogan

      Branson has a new nonprofit angle based on the realization that we are all on the same planet. I forget the name. It echoes some of your thoughts.

      • Amy Miyamoto

        Thanks I will have to check that out. ;)

  • Theresa Ceniccola

    Thoughtful post, Chris. You have articulated something I’ve recently discovered to be true but didn’t have the words to describe – “Independence is the hallway that connects dependence and interdependence.” I have never thought of it as a “temporary” or “transitional” state but you are spot on with that concept. Thank you!

  • Valerie Joy Deveza

    I couldn’t agree with you more when you said: “Independence
    is the acceptance of a lot of responsibilities.” And I guess that pretty much
    sums up everything.

  • Ayaz

    Great post Chris!

    For me the freedom is only you can do the things as per your own will but the other challenges are up there to meet.

    In freedom you can be go any where but you could have lots of other problem’s mentally as you described (infrastruce building, health department etc.)

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  • paulkonrardy

    Eureka! You’ve done it again, Chris, by allowing Ganesh to show up at the perfect moment. Despite the huge – and accelerating – changes we are all going through, it’s so important to remember to remove obstacles constantly. Considering most are of our own making, you remind us all to delight in finding freedom as we forge our own way.

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