Most people don’t know this, but Ukraine was actually a pretty rich country. Being the largest country in Europe, it’s graced with a very lush agriculture, coal mines and lots of factories (mostly in the East) that were producing lots of stuff. During Soviet times, Ukraine was known as the “breadbasket of Europe” because its lush farmland produced more than 25% of wheat in the former Soviet Union. I still remember the amazing bread I used to eat growing up.
Of course I’m speaking in the past tense because none of it is any longer true. Following the dissolution of USSR and the current war, Ukraine isn’t producing all that much. More than 20% of the national income was derived from the coal mines in the east of the country, but with the eastern part of the country controlled by rebels, that income no longer belongs to Ukraine.
As a result, Ukraine’s GDP has drastically fallen and the country is completely bankrupt. Ukraine went from a relatively rich country—or at least a country with great potential—to a completely destroyed one. Ukraine went from being a breadbasket to a basket case. Along with losing its wealth, Ukraine also lost a certain level of independence and sovereignty.
Sovereignty and slavery
All countries in the world can be categorized according to their level of sovereignty and independence. While all countries love to call themselves sovereign, very few are truly independent. Examples of truly sovereign nations are USA, Russia and China. These countries have lots of natural resources and sizable populations. They produce goods or services that are vital by other nations. They also have massive armies and lots of weapons that are ready to protect these resources. These countries are powerful enough to dictate their terms to smaller and weaker nations.
There are also countries that aren’t truly sovereign or independent, but still semi-independent. They’re smaller in size and population, have less resources and wouldn’t be able to defend themselves against bigger aggressors. Some examples of semi-independent nations are Denmark, Switzerland, Norway. Nevertheless, these countries are doing great economically and don’t need really need to beg for assistance from others.
The last category of countries are those that have completely sold themselves to other nations or multinational organizations. They are de-facto slave states. They may have been graced with various resources and capable population, but instead of bootstrapping themselves from the ground up, they instead begged for financial assistance from richer nations in exchange for their natural resources and other assets. Some examples of slave states are Greece, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria.
The strength of the individual
But what are countries but a collection of individuals? Just like how a country can bootstrap itself with nothing but what’s within its national borders, so can an individual. An individual, just like a country, can similarly choose its own destiny and become either sovereign or slave.
Unlike nations, individuals aren’t constrained by certain limitations. Denmark may want to rule the world, but it’s limited by its small physical size, small population and lack of natural resources. That doesn’t apply to individuals; all individuals are the same. Unless you’re physically dead, you have the exact same potential as the person next to you. It all comes down to strength.
If the individual is internally weak, he will naturally look to the outside for salvation. He will look at what people around him are doing. He will join the masses and get a 9-5 job. He’ll feel secure and confident that he’s doing the right thing because that’s what everyone around him is doing. He won’t have to think much outside the box, at least beyond of what his boss requests of him; regardless of his effort and output, the same salary would always be deposited into his bank account every two weeks.
Although you might feel good that you have a job and are a productive element of society, I think it’s important to call it what it really is: dependence and slavery. You cannot call yourself free and independent if you rely on another human being to furnish you with an office, health insurance and a steady paycheck. You’re fused with a much bigger entity and not really on your own. All you do is come in, type few things on the keyboard, bullshit with your co-workers by the water cooler and go home. If you think you’re really free, try exercising that freedom by not showing up to the office one day and then see what happens.
I may have enjoyed my years in Silicon Valley while working on a great campus with an amazing gym and volleyball court, eating free or heavily subsidized lunches, but there was no shadow of doubt who was the real boss and who was following orders once it was time to get to business and complete the project that’s running behind schedule. Exchanging my time and skills for subsidized food and a gym was a great experiment, but, in the end, I’m happy to say that I chose myself and have never looked back.
The other path, the path to sovereignty, is when an individual—just like a nation—decides to strengthen himself and instead of looking outside for salvation, instead chooses to bootstrap and build himself using nothing but his own skills. He looks inward and takes an inventory of his assets and builds something from those assets. He embarks on the road to sovereignty.
Your skills belong to you and you only
Nations have natural resources; individuals have skills and knowledge. The path to individual sovereignty begins with not selling your skill to the highest bidder in exchange for financial and psychological security. A country like Greece or Ukraine can develop its natural resources instead of squandering all that potential and then beg Western countries for a loan (that will need to be paid back with interest anyway). Greece can exploit its strategic shipping and tourism sectors and Ukraine can develop its coal mines and agriculture.
The same applies to individuals. Each one of us has unique skills that are a result of our personal interests, knowledge and experience. What you need to do is take that skill and build something around it. If you’re a software developer, you can become a freelancer or a start your own software company (e.g., microISV). If you’re a writer, you can start a blog and write about endless topics of interest and build a worldwide audience. The amount of things you can do are truly limitless.
It really isn’t about what you can do; that’s a complicated question and really depends on your individual makeup. I don’t know whether you, as an individual, most closely resemble Ukraine, Greece, China or Denmark. I don’t know what are your natural or learned skills, skills that you’re not exploiting and unleashing onto the world for one reason or another. Only you know know this.
As far as I’m concerned, the choice is much, much simpler: do you bootstrap yourself from the ground up and build something truly sovereign and great? Or do you give up on yourself and sell your skills to the highest bidder in (exchange for a steady paycheck and psychological support of doing what the others are doing)? Do you utilize your unlimited potential or squander it? That’s the real question.
The greatest crime of all
I’ve seen my share of unfortunate things, but there’s nothing sadder and more pitiful than being born with a wealth of assets and potential and not have the strength to stitch them together and exploit them for your own gain. Nothing is more unfortunate than giving up something that’s rightfully yours and no one else’s for some promise of future security and safety. That’s what you’re effectively doing when you beg for a job, sending out countless resumes and then going to be interviewed in person—all so that you can dump your prized assets at markdown prices.
It’s as unfortunate as seeing a country like Ukraine, a country of such wealth and resources—a country of such potential—beg others for loan after loan, bailout after bailout, bread crumb after bread crumb like a homeless bum instead of getting its shit together and making something of itself. In my mind, nothing is more shameful than that.
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James Maverick used to work in a cubicle as a code monkey in Silicon Valley. Then, in 2007, he quit his job and a one-way ticket to Brazil. Ever since, he continued to travel, visiting over 85 countries and living in more than a dozen of them. He loved his location-independent lifestyle and has no plans to live in America.