Autonomy is a funny term. It’s not a place or a specific state of being.
The dictionary says autonomy is “The right or condition of self-government” or “the power to make your own decisions.”
But how much control do we need to have to be considered autonomous? That’s the question.
The truth is, no one ever achieves Total Autonomy. Even the wealthiest, most powerful people in the world still answer to someone. It might be a government, their customers, or their constituents. But everyone answers to someone.
So Autonomy is more like a 0 -100 scale than it is a destination you arrive at.
Throughout our lives, we have various degrees of autonomy. And our satisfaction with the degree of ownership we have over our lives has a lot to do with where we came from.
Remember when you were a kid and you were allowed to go out with your friends for the first time alone?
Or the first time you pulled the family car out of the driveway by yourself?
It’s a liberating feeling. I still remember the first time I drove the car without a chaperone. It was the most free I’d ever felt.
On the other hand. Think of the last time you took a nice long vacation. No phone calls or emails to answer. Just peace and quiet.
Then the vacation ends and it’s back to work. Now the demands on your time and attention pile up. Your autonomy shrinks and you can feel your body physically shift.
It’s a terrible feeling.
Why Should We Aim to Increase Our Autonomy?
When it comes to happiness and fulfillment there are a lot of opinions. The Stoics would say you should be happy regardless of your situation. That you should find purpose in your misery.
The Hedonists would say the pursuit of personal pleasure is the key to happiness.
Christians say God will give your life purpose…and on, and on.
I think to some degree they’re all right.
We all share the same basic set of desires.
- A desire to matter.
- A need to feel as though our life has meaning.
- A desire for positive relationships.
- A need to feel some sense of control over our lives.
- A sense of connection to a higher purpose.
- A desire for forward progress. (Not stagnation)
So the Stoics have it right. We do need to find meaning in every situation. The hedonists are right too. We need time with friends to spend on things that bring us pleasure.
But we also need to feel connected to something greater than ourselves. So the Christians are right too.
The surest way to satisfy each of these desires is to increase the amount of control we have over our time.
And I think that’s a much better definition of Autonomy. It’s the degree to which we control how our time is spent.
So let’s take a look at the extreme. We’ve already agreed that no one has Total Autonomy. But if we want to achieve Maximum Autonomy it’s important we define what the ideal would look like.
Total Autonomy is the ability to do:
What you want,
When you want,
Where you want,
With whomever you want,
For as long as you want,
Without considering the cost.
So answer me this; If you had the ability to spend 100% of your time working on things that gave your life meaning and purpose, with people you loved and admired, and never had to worry about money – how happy and fulfilled would you be?
I can’t imagine any scenario on Earth that would lead to greater fulfillment and happiness.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible.
But if we take Total Autonomy as the unattainable goal. It would also be fair to say that the closer we get to Total Autonomy the better our lives will be.
I call this Maximum Autonomy.
Entrepreneurial Minimalism is the
Path to Maximum Autonomy
Let’s face facts.
If someone can tell you,
- Where you have to be,
- What time you have to be there,
- How long you have to stay,
- And what you have to do while you’re there…
…you are not free.
That’s what a 9-5 job is. Even if you enjoy what you do. You don’t have the kind of autonomy that leads to the greatest amount of fulfillment in life.
So step one is getting off the path of wage slavery and time prostitution.
But entrepreneurship, as it’s taught today, doesn’t lead to much autonomy either.
Most of the books you read from business ‘experts’ tell you the key to success in business is “scaling up”, hiring people to do most of the work for you so “you can work on your business instead of in your business.”
That formula rarely results in more autonomy. Most entrepreneurs end up building a prison they call a company. A massive machine that must be fueled and oiled constantly.
Instead of working less, they work more.
Instead of more time freedom, they have less.
It’s why over 60% of entrepreneurs suffer from some form of mental health issue.
There’s a better way. It’s called Entrepreneurial Minimalism.
Entrepreneurial Minimalism or E/M for short, is a philosophy of business that puts Time Freedom and Income Mobility ahead of growth.
Instead of focusing on vanity metrics like yearly revenue, the number of employees, or the status of the owner – E/M measures success by how much autonomy the business provides its owner.
Entrepreneurial Minimalists tend to have small companies with few (or zero) employees.
E/M’s work in industries that don’t require them to be in a set location. This income mobility adds to the owner’s autonomy by allowing them to move or travel without risking their livelihood.
This leads to greater levels of satisfaction and fulfillment in life.
The goal then is Maximum Autonomy and the vehicle to get you there is Entrepreneurial Minimalism.
Thanks for reading,