Declare Independence
How to have the life you want without a paycheck
By Ellen McGirt

(MONEY Magazine) – Remember Free Agent Nation? The phrase, minted by journalist Daniel Pink in a magazine article and later a best-selling 2001 book, struck a nerve with working Americans during the euphoria of the New Economy. It conjured a vision of a workplace in which employees had ceased to think like clock punchers and instead saw themselves essentially as independent contractors, flitting between salaried jobs and self-employment, trading the illusion of lifetime job security at a company for the freedom and fulfillment of controlling their own fate.

After the boom ended, the phrase ended up in the dustbin along with other New Economy classics such as Information Wants to Be Free and New Economy itself. But the longing for independence at the heart of that vision still resonates. And putting that idea to work in your life is what we're talking about here.

It's not just for born entrepreneurs. After all, no employee who can read a newspaper expects a promise of job security from corporate America anymore. What security you do have comes from the talents and networks you've nursed yourself. As for the appeal of calling your own shots--well, that was no mere New Economy hallucination either. Several recent studies, including a 2004 University of Zurich survey of workers in 23 countries, have found the self-employed substantially more satisfied than people who labor for someone else, even if the self-employed work more and earn less. And look at your own life. Haven't you dreamed, at least once, of setting out on your own path while you're still young enough to enjoy it?

The stories that follow are addressed to anyone who shares that dream. There are basically three paths to getting to that point. You can, like Lisa Bing of Brooklyn (whose story starts on page 90), systematically lay the foundation for your own business while you are still employed--and then make the leap. Or, like Keith Bruce and Sandy Peletier of Denver (page 92), you can focus on accumulating enough wealth to retire young and work or not, as you choose. There's also the path taken by Terry Taylor of Colleyville, Texas (page 94 and pictured at right), who embraced independence only after a new boss threw him out of the job he'd loved for 12 years.

None of this is to deny that life off the payroll poses plenty of challenges, including how to get affordable health care. (You'll find answers on page 98.) But the independent life can also have unexpected rewards. Back to Terry Taylor: After grieving for his lost job for months, he launched his own consulting business and found a side of himself he never knew existed. After a year on his own, Taylor made an appointment with the man who'd laid him off--and thanked him. "My life has improved so much," says Taylor. "Frankly, I was very grateful."