When You’ve Been Given Back Your Time

Freedom ClockWhen I walked into work on my final day of employment, there was a box sitting on my desk with a note resting beside it.

The note read:

Early in the industrial revolution, workplaces typically had no clocks. This was done to reinforce the concept that the company owns you and your time. Thus, on retirement, a watch was given as a token that the worker was given back his time.

My friend and coworker Craig Collins wrote this note to me, and inside the box on my desk was the clock you see in that picture. This is probably the most heartfelt gift I’ve ever been given. I feel as if I’ve just gone through some major right of passage — as platitudinous as that may sound.

As I’m going through this right of passage, I’ve been thinking a lot about:

Owning Your Own Time

I’ve spoken at great length about the importance of owning your own time vs. renting out your mind. While I still stress the importance of you being in complete control of your time, it’s also worth mentioning that owning your own time isn’t everything.

Owning your own time won’t matter if…

  • You’re just as much of a tyrant/slave driver to yourself as your previous employer.
  • You are still influenced by societal pressures and let that dictate what you should be doing with your time.
  • You’re not able to exercise self-discipline in staying focused (which you need to be able to pay yourself).
  • You don’t know how to say no. You don’t know how to turn down opportunities when you’re spread too thin.
  • You still pay yourself by the hour (instead of by how much value you deliver).
  • You don’t have a good filter for focusing on high-leverage (most important) tasks vs. those that aren’t likely to make much of a difference in your business.

There are a number of other pitfalls to watch out for, and most of these apply whether you’re employed of self-employed.

But no matter how deep the trenches are, there’s no other place I’d rather be. I’m rolling around in the mud of life and getting myself dirty in this messy business of living deliberately.

And there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

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Jonathan BeebeDiggy - Upgradereality.comFamily MattersJon WinthorpMalcolm Recent comment authors
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Glen Allsopp

Hey man, I’ve been seeing you around less and less lately. I take it that’s because of finishing work etc. Awesome present idea and very thoughful gift. I’m completely with you on the self-discipline one. Once you’re on your own it can be hard to stay focused and it’s easy to mess around. I’m pretty sure you won’t have that problem though. If you want to push yourself, take the advice of paying yourself first. Don’t leave yourself with whatever is left in your monthly income, give yourself a nice chunk first. Because of the other necessities and bills you… Read more »

Scott Webb

That quote from the note, and your paragraph after it gave me like a goosebump-ish feeling inside me.

I have a lot to learn before I could make the move, but That’s why I’ve given myself 1 years passage – I’ve noted your bullets and do my best to notice if I fall into these issues.

Tristan Rayner | The New Man Of Action

Wow – The story of being given back your time is touching.

Self-discipline has always been something for me which I need to use when I’m working on a boring project – something that doesn’t inspire. Never required when I’m really enthused and passionate about what I’m doing.


I can’t imagine that many people actually ‘retired’ early on in the Industrial Revolution. No Social Security, pension plans, 401k’s etc. I bet most people unfortunately died while the factory still owned their time. Congrats on the big transition. I’m sure I’m not the only one that can tell this is what you have deeply desired. I just have one little concern though. It seems as if the PD world is so incredibly big into ‘breaking out of the cubicle’, starting a business, working for yourself, etc that ALL traditional careers are automatically bad. What about the people in traditional… Read more »

Andrew Parkes

I love this post.

The most interesting thing I see is the ownership vs. management issue. Owning my time does not necessarily make me a better manager of it. The only difference is that the in a dual Owner/Manager role, I am accountable to myself!

Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching

“You’re just as much of a tyrant/slave driver to yourself as your previous employer” — that’s a key one for me to remember. But at least now I only serve myself and not two tyrannical masters with sometimes contradictory demands. :)

Daniel Edlen

Very cool. Great story and quote.

Time is non-transferable. We’d be lot better off if we remembered that moment to moment when we’re making choices that will determine both past and future. Every moment, every choice is ours.



I said this on the “fire your boss” post but I’ll say it again. You are an inspiration. As someone who feels smart enough to not have a boss, and I think most people are that smart, I have made it my paramount priority to get out of the employee/employer game completely. My business partner and I have set the goal, made the plan, and are constantly tooling on it and keeping the ultimate goal in mind. Thanks for all the tips, ideas, and inspiration.

Mike Piper

Wow…that is arguably the single coolest gift I’ve ever heard of.

That coworker of yours truly understands the significance of your accomplishment (in a way that’s rare among people who haven’t made a similar move).

Congratulations again. :)

Daniel Richard

I’d like to give you a virtual handshake to say congrats for getting back your time.

Your friend, Craig, sure did take some time to craft out a great short message to encourage you through your next phase after the plunge.

Time is against us. Let’s make do the best of it. :)

Shamelle- TheEnhanceLife

In this day and age, is its not uncommon to find ourselves constantly frustrated at the end of the day, with a pile of things that need to be done and wondering why we are not able to do it….

Your story and the way you handle the “owning your own time vs. renting out your mind” is inspiring.



Great history lesson and a VERY thoughtful gift from your friend.

I am starting to “own” my own time, but I am taking the process slowly. I wish that more people would grasp on to these concepts. I love it, I love it, I love it!!!

Mark Foo | TheBigDreamer.com

“I’m rolling around in the mud of life and getting myself dirty in this messy business of living deliberately.” Wow… This sure sounds like a lot of fun!

And it is indeed a lot of fun getting out of the master/slave game. But I do agree with you that a large dose of self-discipline is required to go a long way on this path.

And a lot of initiative too cos’ there’ll be instructions no more since you’re all on your own being a self-employed.





I love what you are doing and see that you are taking steps to get to your ultimate goal. I have just set my last date of slavery employment and the ideas and steps to get there are rushing out of me. Everything you said a couple of post ago, about setting a date and things will happen is happening to me now.

Keep up the good work.


Great post. You’re on your way! What a journey! I’m looking so forward to starting my own, and I’m SO close!

Good luck and fortune to you.


Kent @ The Financial Philosopher

Great post, Jonathan! In my observations of others during my career as an investment adviser, and in my experience as an entrepreneur, I noticed that the conventional idea of time and money are the same — that they can be “saved” — that, somehow, what was once ours will be “returned” to us later. This is a fallacy. Assets (money and time) can only be invested — not saved. The allocation of money and time to the self (aligning who you are with what you do) is the means of obtaining the highest return on the investment (ROI), which has… Read more »


+1 to saying no. So often I get busy wrapped up in everything that people say needs to happen, sometimes you just have to back off and take time for yourself.

Awesome clock, I’m sort of curious as to how it works though, it appears to rotate, is that a faint line on the top marking what time it is?


Maybe that’s why most of the people I work with, myself included, don’t wear watches.

I guess we just all feel like we don’t have our own time.

I wonder how many people never consider how they are going to compensate themselves for their work when they start a business and just end up paying themselves hourly by default?


Great thoughts – I love the quote they left you in the note, I didn’t know about that custom. I agree with several of the points you raise about working for ourselves: when we “are our own bosses,” so to speak. Good idea to filter out which management techniques are good to replicate on ourselves and which techniques are outdated and just plain harmful.

Using the 80/20 rule is one of the better strategies for working, that’s for sure.

Neal @ WealthPilgrim.com

Potent phrasing made me take this idea deep inside. How am I going to use the time I’ve been given today?

You just gave me a huge gift…..and you don’t even know me.

Thank you…


Hi Jonathan,

It is always a challenge for self employed to focus their time on the most important task. Every now and then we may stray and do things that isn’t really important but I believe that is just part of being self employed.

One more thing to note, I find that even though the company present a present(clock) to the worker on retirement as a symbol of returning their time, but as a matter of fact the time spent can’t be get back no matter what.

Priyanka D

Thats a really good article! Nice read.

Tehseen | RechargeYourMind


It is always good to hear experiences like yours that once just have “faith” in themselves to break out, and now they finally have broken out.

Do keep us posted on how different your life is after this right of passage. What do you miss, what do you not miss!


hey Jonathan, your post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. although i’ve been working for myself for the past 5 years, i’ve recently seen a slow transition in my business – from being hands-on (and getting paid for my time) to leveraging my intellectual property (and getting paid for the value I provide). I run a personal training business, and because of the recent economic downturn, have seen a drop in clientele and business. at the same time, i find my online business on a steady climb as I am able to contribute more and more to… Read more »


Inspiring post. I really like the personal touch with the gift you got, very powerful. I really like the idea of ‘owning your own time’, definitely lots of food for thought in that idea, and if you own it, what to do with it. Lots of responsibility. Good luck with your new endeavors.


If anyone is extremely in love with that clock and wants to buy one, this looks to be it http://www.littleclockshop.com/hourglass_clock.html

Jon Winthorp

Your point is well made. There are definitely challenges that exist when self employed that aren’t present when working for a company. Staying focused seems to continually be a challenge for me but at the end of the day it’s a challenge that I welcome.

Family Matters

Hip, hip, hooray!

And when your partner is there with you most of the time and you get to bring the kids back from school and be there for every important event, hooray again!

And when you focus on doing good stuff, rather than making some rich people richer with your talent and sweat, hooray yet again.

Of course, it helps if you make money, too ;)

Diggy - Upgradereality.com

Awesome blog you have here!

I really like this post because I am very much a fan of working for myself vs renting out my time to someone else.

Working for a boss may be neccessary initially to keep you afloat, but I think it should be overcome as soon as possible so that you can start your own ventures.

Going to look through some more posts now:)

Jonathan Beebe

Taking control of your own time is very, very important… and it can be pretty surprising if you experiment around with it a little. For example, I’m self-employed, and in the early stages I thought that if I would just put in as much of all my time as I could into my business, it would explode and then I would have plenty of time to relax… Then, I realized that it was only burning me out, and my productivity levels actually dropped. I was becoming less motivated, less energetic, my mind was slumping, I caught myself simply “browsing” the… Read more »

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