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Trading Freedom for Security: The Most Costly Mistake

December 27, 2023

I have interviewed many candidates who thought they could exchange some freedom for more security. They were incorrect. 

In today’s turbulent world, there’s a natural urge to seek security. Since most people’s main financial security is from their job, this all too often leads to a willingness to trade some freedoms for more perceived security, letting the Company assume the role of parent or responsible provider. And yet, the last few years have clearly demonstrated that many companies do not value their employees; and instead, may mandate actions or behaviors or commitments that contravene a person’s fundamental values. These employees ended up with neither freedom nor security. And if you are in a C-suite or other senior role, you’ve probably directly or indirectly felt the cold winds and fickleness of company politics. Employment security is always only one decision away from disappearing. 

The Importance of Freedom 

So, while financial security is a reasonable goal, it’s also important to find a job that offers you freedom. Freedom in your work can mean different things to different people: it might be flexibility to work from home or to set your own hours. For others, it means having the autonomy to make decisions and to take risks. Either way, with freedom comes responsibility: the parent isn’t going to just provide for you, you have to figure things out for yourself. This requires thinking for yourself too.  

No matter what your definition of freedom is, it’s important to prioritize it in your employment choice. I have spoken to too many people – from executives to individual contributors – who thought they were going to obtain security but really just traded away their most precious asset, their freedom. Nobody had thought of it in those terms at the time – but they surely felt it when the music stopped and there was no chair to sit on.    

The Balance Between Freedom and Security 

Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect job. Every job will have some trade-offs. The key is to find one that offers the right balance of freedom and security for you. If you’re looking for a job that offers complete freedom, you may have to sacrifice some financial security and develop higher risk tolerance. And if you’re looking for a job that offers complete financial security, you may have to sacrifice some freedom, so you need to be extra-vigilant about the core values of the place you commit to. 

The best way to find the right balance is to be honest with yourself about what’s important to you. What are your non-negotiables? What are you willing to compromise on? Once you can articulate those core foundational priorities, you can much more easily size up potential opportunities accordingly and focus on the ones that align. 

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