The Five Levels of Freedom (and How to Get There)

Approximate Reading Time: 9 minutes

I believe that freedom is the number one motive for people to desire to change their jobs to more flexible ones, to become freelancers or even to run larger businesses.

Therefore, I believe that this topic is highly relevant to remote work and freelancing.

I used to think of freedom as something that you either have or don’t have – I used to think that as long as you need to work for money, you don’t have freedom and as soon as you don’t need to work for money anymore, you do have freedom.

In other words, I used to desire freedom in order to not (have to) work.

Today though, after having experienced and realized how boring and empty your life can get with this attitude, I desire freedom for precisely the opposite reason than I used to.

Instead of desiring time and financial freedom in order to not (have to) work, I desire the freedom to be able to work on more things I really want to be working on, when I really want to be working on them and where I really want to be working on them.

And I look at freedom as something that exists on a scale and can be progressively improved rather than something that there either is or isn’t.

The Five Levels of Freedom

After thinking about it for quite some time, I came up with a scale of five levels of freedom in people’s career lives, each level being defined by the source of one’s main income.

The word “main” is very important here – if you have a dayjob, but take a freelancing gig from time to time, that of course does not automatically put you on the freelancer level.

Similarly, the legal form of contract has little to do with it either. For example, I know a lot of people in the IT industry who are contractors instead of being on a payroll and therefore claim to be “freelancers”.

Again, of course, from the perspective of freedom, that doesn’t make you a real freelancer either – if that is an on-site contract, you are currently on level 1 and if it’s a remote contract, you are on level 2.

Level 1: On-Site Job

A nine-to-five job is currently the most common source of income among people. Yet, it provides the lowest level of freedom, for obvious reasons.

Unless you are really passionate about what you’re doing despite the fact that you’re building someone else’s business, there’s very little motivation for you to work effectively, as increased productivity doesn’t get you anything, except for a tap on the shoulder from your boss.

Level 2: Remote Job

While it is still a job, there are significant advantages to gain by switching from a nine-to-five job to a remote job.

At the very least, switching to a remote job will give you the freedom to work from the place you really want to work from and not being forced to be in the same boring office with the same boring (and bored) people every day, which itself will fundamentally change how you feel about the job and the level of freedom.

Ideally though, depending on the type of the job and the way you negotiate its terms, it can actually provide you with something much more valuable.

Remote companies are often likely to judge your value by the quality and quantity of results that you produce rather than hours spent on them, which means that as long as you are more productive and delivering results faster without compromising quality, some of them couldn’t care less how many hours the given task actually took you to complete.

Keep in mind though that remote opportunities vary greatly in flexibility and per-task basis of the engagement must be clearly agreed between you and the employer.

Unless that is the case, do not under any circumstances assume that this is the case just because the job opportunity is remote!

Level 3: Freelancing Business

The full title of this level should actually be “Freelancing Business Done Right”, because if you do things wrong and for instance don’t focus on only getting lucrative and preferably long-term clients, you can get yourself trapped in situations that take freedom from you rather than give it to you.

While a remote job and freelancing may look and feel very similar in certain aspects, the main difference is that in actual freelancing, you get to set the rules of the cooperation.

You now decide how often and at what time you will communicate with your client.

You now decide whether you will charge your clients on a hourly or per-task/per-project basis.

You now decide how much (or how little) work you want to be doing.

Furthermore, the clients are now actually your clients and if your agreement permits it, you can start outsourcing some of the work to others when your business starts to expand beyond what you can (or want to) handle, creating an extra income or even progressively transitioning to level 4 like that.

Level 4: Scalable Business

Essentially, a scalable business is a business where you as its owner do not directly exchange your time for money.

It is not a passive income yet either as you still need to actively participate in the business for it to work (so you indirectly still do exchange your time for money), however, it does allow you to scale the income up, as you are no longer limited by exchanging 1 hour of your work for a certain amount of money.

As I already indicated in the description of the previous level, an example of a scalable business can be leveraging your freelancing business by outsourcing some (or all) of the work to other people, which is a logical step if your freelancing business starts to expand beyond what you can handle yourself.

However, that is not the only way to get to this level. For example, I do not have the ambition to scale my freelancing business up as that’s not what I am as passionate about as much as I am about helping others.

Instead, I therefore established this website, which is another example of a scalable business, as it costs me the same amount of time to write an article whether I have ten readers or a million readers, so while my income from this blog does depend on me putting significant amount of time in it, it is not limited by its amount.

Level 5: Business that Generates Passive Income

I have a love-hate relationship with the term “passive income”.

While I understand that passive income does exist, it is often misinterpreted and misunderstood to the extent that even some quite successful and smart businessmen think that it is a myth.

While I know for a fact that it is false and passive income of course does exist, I understand where they are coming from.

The thing is, there are too many people who claim that their business generates passive income (including countless online marketers trying to sell this idea), while in fact they “only” have scalable businesses (not that it would be a bad place to be in).

It is therefore important to realize that as Robert Kiyosaki defined in his famous book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad“, a company only truly generates passive income if after you as its owner come back from a one year long vacation, your business is in the same or better condition than it was before you left.

Passive income is only typical for extremely successful businesses, usually also with a significant amount of employees, so you probably understand that while this level of freedom is a natural next step after establishing a scalable business, it is a long shot that is typically achieved over a long period of time.

Choosing Your Target Level

While it is rather obvious that the higher the level of freedom, the better off you will be, it is also important to realize that each level comes with a price that may not be worth it for some people.

For example, I will be probably perfectly happy if I never reach level five, because what I realized is that I love to work in my own company. I love writing articles and helping people achieve their success and I love developing this blog into a great community of people who help each other.

Similarly, you may be a freelancer and love to do your job for your clients, never desiring anything else in your career life.

And although they are probably not reading this blog, there are even people (not many of them though, at least in my opinion) who love their on-site job and are perfectly happy like that.

So don’t feel pressured to automatically choose your target level as the highest one – this is really individual.

The only problem with choosing a lower level is that while you may be happy like that when you reach it, it may not last forever.

Many years later, you may realize that you don’t like to work for clients anymore, are not happy like that and would like to have a scalable business instead.

So when choosing your target level, don’t only ask yourself what would make you happy now, but also ask yourself whether you are sure that you will be happy like that for the rest of your career life or whether it’s worth it for you to strive for more.

Why Most People Fail to Achieve the Freedom They Desire

I am not going to talk about people who are lazy, make excuses, lack self-confidence or ambitions and don’t even give it a shot – the reason why someone who settles for a day job for the rest of their life then doesn’t magically end up with a successful business is rather obvious.

I am going to talk about why most people who actually try hard enough do not succeed. The scenario is usually very similar.

The problem is that out of the 5 levels, the perks of the fourth and fifth one are by far the most desirable, so most people who are on level 1 are trying to find their way directly to level 4 or 5, not even realizing that they are trying to skip most of the work that most successful people went through.

The problem with that is that usually, they do not yet have the necessary skills, time, money and connections to do that.

They are trying to skip the 3 levels in between (some of them even start as students, so they are trying to skip all 4) and go from a zero to hero, not realizing that if they went one step at a time, each level would provide them with many highly important advantages that make the transition to the next level smooth and relatively easy.

Sure, there are some people who succeed despite skipping the steps – just like there are some people who won the lottery. However, there are way more people who bought the ticket and did not win.

The sad thing is, most of these ambitious people are not even aware of these 5 levels, so they try once, they try twice, some of the tough ones try five different business ideas (or alternatively stick too long to a business that kind of works, but never really takes off), never realizing that they are repeating the same mistake over and over.

After several of such trials, most of them just give up and settle for a day job, never realizing there actually is quite a reliable way…

How to Get to Another Level?

As I indicated in the previous couple of paragraphs, your chances are much better if you progress one step at a time.

Let’s look at how going through each level makes the transition to the next one relatively smooth and easy:

  • Working an on-site job for a while is the best way to gain the skills you need to succeed in the competitive market of remote jobs.
  • Working a remote job will provide you with the time (and location) flexibility you need to start getting your own clients on the side, while keeping you financially stable.
  • Freelancing full-time will teach you a lot of skills and principles that apply to both small and big business and will lead to a significant increase in income that will allow you to continually fund your scalable business.
  • Scaling your business up (or establishing a different scalable business using the skills, experience and money from freelancing) will then progressively liberate you from exchanging your time for money, eventually leading to passive income.

Whatever level you desire, it now sounds a little bit more realistic to achieve it, doesn’t it?

And it indeed is.

If this makes sense to you, I suggest that you always only concentrate on getting one level up.

Don’t even think too much about what you will do next until you are there.

Take it from me – before I realized what I have just explained to you, I used to be guilty of trying to go directly from level 1 to level 5 for several years, with not much to show for it and I only started getting results after going one step at a time.

And I unfortunately know too many people who are still wasting year after year with not much progress, not realizing this simple concept.

When to Try and Skip Levels?

As pretty much every rule, this one is also the most powerful if you know when to break it.

If you are for example working a remote job and your goal is to have your own company that provides the same services that you currently do in your job as an employee, it makes perfect sense to stick to the advice in this article and become a freelancer first and scale up from there.

On the other hand, if you have an on-site job and have a start-up idea that you think is great and perhaps even manage to get an investment for it (or your salary is high enough to finance it yourself), there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t give it a shot.

So don’t get too attached to this concept, as that may be counter-productive in some specific cases.

However, if you ever struggle to achieve a greater level of freedom despite trying to do your best, then the solution likely is taking a step back and see if you’re not trying to skip too many levels at a time.

What is your target level of freedom and how far are you from achieving it? Let me know in the comments section below!

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