You are independent when you no longer need to rely on something or someone else.
The first level of independence you need to reach is being independent of needing “this job.” This doesn’t mean that you are wealthy enough that you no longer need to work, although that is a level of independence you should pursue. At this first level of independence, you may need “a job” to survive, but not necessarily the one you are in now. Or the one after that.
How do you gain this first level of independence? Through personal and professional growth and development.
First, you develop yourself personally to be so valuable that, should something happen (and given a long enough timeline, something always happens), you will have your pick of new opportunities. You work on building your own personal strengths and capabilities so that you are more valuable to many organizations in many industries.
You need a list of things that you are personally studying to make you more effective as a human being. I’d start with Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (as a workbook, not as a “book to read.”) I’d also follow the recipes in Tom Peter’s The Little Big Things. You might sign up for unlimited classes on Lynda.com for $25 a month and learn all kinds of skills and all kinds of useful software packages.
Your personal growth and development is the path to independence.
Second, you focus on growing professionally. You need to learn your trade or craft, whatever that is. Even though it may be your employer’s responsibility to give you the training and development you need, you should never leave that responsibility in anyone else’s hands. You do what is necessary to grow, whether that be reading, taking classes, or finding a mentor.
You also need to do such good work where you are now that you are the first person on anyone’s list for the opportunity for advancement. This requires that you seek out growth opportunities, namely difficult and important projects. It also means you seek out responsibility for delivering outcomes.
Your professional development is your responsibility, and it also the path to independence.
You’ve heard that “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” Well, now it’s who knows you and for what.
The third development project you must always be working on is your personal and professional relationships. You must develop a personal and professional network of people who know you, know the value you create, and trust you so much that they’ll vouch for you anytime and anywhere.
If you are doing well here, people are already presenting you with opportunities. If you are doing poorly here, you are not sure what you would do if something happened.
Relationships are built on an investment of time and energy. You have to have a presence and spend time with people in order to develop powerful relationships. You also have to proactively look for ways to be valuable to the people who make up your personal and professional relationships. You don’t find ways to be helpful so that people owe you favors. You find ways to be helpful to make a contribution and to be known as someone who cares and who makes a difference.
When something happens, and eventually it will, your relationships are going to be a big part of your next opportunity. They are a critical component of your path to independence.
This is your path to personal independence. If you are not on this path now, step on to it in a hurry.