Skip to Content

Book Summary: Be a Free Range Human – Escape the 9-5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills

Be a Free Range Human (2013) is an escape manual for the caged and cooped up. Addressed to mid-career professionals trapped in boring jobs and overwhelmed by responsibilities, it offers an alternative approach to life. Call it free-ranging: doing what you love, every day, when and where you like. The best bit? You can do all that and earn enough to cover the bills!

Who is it for?

  • Would-be entrepreneurs in need of inspiration
  • Professionals who’ve had enough of the nine-to-five grind
  • Oddballs, misfits, and visionaries looking for alternatives

What’s in it for me? Escape the coop and discover a life of freedom and fulfillment.

We’re often told that dreams are well and good when you’re young and carefree, but they don’t put food on the table. Slogging away at a job you hate, paying the mortgage, raising the kids, and saving for a decade or two of leisure at the end of your working life – that’s what reality is all about, right?

Wrong! Today, more and more people are escaping boring, beige offices to create remarkable lives on their own terms. And here’s the best bit: they’re doing it without compromising their standard of living.

So who are these rebels? Well, they’re a new breed – call them Free Range Humans. They work when, where, and how they want, and they get paid to do the things they love. You’ll find them in parks and cafés, on beaches, and at kitchen tables around the world. Their mission? Freedom and fulfillment – not later, when they retire, but right now.

If that sounds too good to be true, don’t worry – you’re in good company. Until a couple of years ago, author Marianne Cantwell subscribed to the conventional wisdom. Then she built a free-range life of her own. Now, she’s convinced anyone can do it.

Book Summary: Be a Free Range Human - Escape the 9-5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills

In these summaries, you’ll find out

  • how to figure out what you really want to do with your life;
  • why you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to create a viable business; and
  • how to get paid more by being you.

Self-employment makes a lot more sense when you realize that there’s no such thing as a secure job anymore.

“Sure, I’d love to live freely and do what I want when I want, but that’s just not in the cards. In the real world, I’ve got responsibilities and bills to pay. To do that, I need a stable job, and a steady income.”

If you’re stuck pursuing a career you hate, but just can’t see an off-ramp to a different destination, there’s a good chance you’ll have said something like this at some point. It’s the logic that keeps millions of us cooped up in offices doing work that bores us stiff. But that’s better than missing the next mortgage payment, right? Well, not quite – in fact, you don’t have to choose between safety and fulfillment.

The key message here is: Self-employment makes a lot more sense when you realize that there’s no such thing as a secure job anymore.

Work used to be a simple bargain. In exchange for knuckling down and doing a job you didn’t enjoy, you received a reliable salary and a decent retirement to which you could dedicate your true passions. This was the career-cage deal, and for many years, millions of workers were happy to accept its terms and sacrifice their freedom for stability. But then things changed.

Work hours got longer and longer while people found they could be let go with less and less notice. Suddenly, jobs weren’t as safe as they had once been. Take a look at your contract. How much notice is your employer contractually obliged to give you – one month? Three? That’s not a whole lot of security, when you get down to it.

Retirement plans aren’t what they once were, either. In fact, experts now predict that children born today can expect to work into their eighties. This isn’t necessarily a problem if your job is a source of fulfillment and happiness, but what if it’s not? That’s a long time to spend doing something you don’t like in return for. . . what, five or ten years of freedom near the end of your life?

The breakdown of the old career-cage deal means that counting on a “steady” job just isn’t a smart play anymore. If your employer isn’t giving you real stability and security, you’re effectively self-employed, but with one major difference: you only have one client. Like freelancers, you’re shouldering huge amounts of risk. But unlike freelancers, you’re betting everything on an income source that a market crash or board decision could wipe out in an instant.

When you look at it that way, going it alone suddenly doesn’t look as risky. But where do you start? Let’s find out!

Doing what you love is a precondition of success, but first you have to figure out what that is.

Life is short. You’d think, then, that a question like, “What do you really want to do with your limited time on Earth?” would be treated as the most important question of all. But you’d be wrong. We’re often instructed that pursuing our passions and making good money just don’t mesh. But that’s just not true.

The key message here is: Doing what you love is a precondition of success, but first you have to figure out what that is.

Have you ever noticed that successful change-makers all love what they do? That’s because you’re unlikely to get anywhere with a great idea if you don’t care about it. And doing what you love doesn’t just make you happy – it’s also what makes you go the extra mile and achieve success.

This is why it’s so important to work out what it is that you truly want to do. Figuring that out might sound simple enough, but it’s actually pretty tricky. As psychologist Richard Wiseman notes, this is because our brains contain two “characters.” One is creative and comes up with the best ideas, but this “quiet man” is easily overruled by the second character, our inner critic – the logical “loud man” in the room.

Whenever the quiet character proposes an attractive idea, the loud one pipes up to say that it’s not feasible. This is the Idea Death Cycle, and it’s why so many people end up stuck in an office for life: Every flash of insight into their true calling is shot down by their inner critic. All that voice wants to know is how you plan to pay the bills.

To break out of this cycle, try the following exercise. All you’ll need is some paper and a pen. Ready? Great, now answer these questions as spontaneously as possible without second-guessing yourself or self-editing.

When was the last time you felt alive and completely engaged in the moment? If a genie popped out of a bottle and gave you 12 months off with full pay, what would you do? Here you’ll want to note what specifically excites you about your plans. If it’s making art, for example, what makes the idea appealing? Is it the actual production of art, or the people you’d be making it with?

This is just the first step to defining your free-range career. But don’t worry about the practicalities yet – before we get to that, we’ll need to bust some common myths.

Your weaknesses are often your strengths, you just need to be in the right environment.

Figuring out a free-range alternative to the nine-to-five grind is a puzzle with a lot of pieces. The most important piece, however, is always the same – you. How can you hope to enjoy an above-average – no, scrap that – a fantastic life if you believe that you’re average? The answer is: you can’t. This means that we’ll need to unlock your hidden strengths, or superpowers, before we look at your free-range career.

To do that, we need to understand the key message, which is: Your weaknesses are often your strengths, you just need to be in the right environment.

Ever since your youngest years, you’ve been sold a lie. This lie says that you have to be good at everything to be good enough. Think back to school. When you got your report card, where was the emphasis – on the subjects you were brilliant at, or the ones you struggled with? Your parents and teachers encouraged you to improve your poorer subjects rather than to excel in your best. This is just one of the ways children are taught to strive for the average rather than build on their strengths.

Free-range humans take a different approach – and that’s just what you’ll be doing as well. So here’s the all-important question: How do you identify your superpowers?

Ironically, the best place to start is to look at your so-called weaknesses. Take it from the author. Before she switched careers, her boss was always scolding her for trying to change how things were done rather than concentrating on the task at hand. Whatever she was working on, she was always coming up with ways to improve the status quo.

When she became an independent consultant, she realized that this was pretty much her job description: clients were paying her to identify problems and suggest improvements. What had looked like a weakness in one setting was actually a strength in another. The problem wasn’t the author, but the fact that she was in the wrong environment.

Think about your own “weaknesses” and you’ll quickly identify similar hidden strengths. Say you’re having trouble focusing on one thing and keep bouncing among different projects. That’s obviously a problem if your job is all about doing one thing at a time, but this quality could be a massive asset in a different environment.

Being able to move quickly among options without getting bogged down in details is exactly what’s needed in brainstorming sessions, for example. What looks like a lack of focus in your current job might just be your superpower – the ability to be a fast-moving, adaptable, big-picture thinker with lots of ideas!

Coming up with a brand new idea isn’t the only way to be original.

When the author was setting herself up as a consultant, she encountered a competitor. Her rival’s business concept was virtually identical to her own. Even the website design was similar. She’d been beaten to the punch. It was a dismaying moment, and she almost called it quits.

Almost. A month into her new venture, she realized she didn’t want to be like her competitor – she had different values, priorities, and customers. But it was a close shave: the myth that every idea has to be completely novel almost killed her business before it had a chance to get off the ground.

The key message here is: Coming up with a brand new idea isn’t the only way to be original.

Originality is often reduced to coming up with some brilliant, unknown idea. That’s an intimidatingly high bar to clear. Thankfully, you don’t have to be the next Steve Jobs to be original!

One way of being original without reinventing the wheel is putting your own stamp on existing ideas. Imagine you discover someone doing something you’d like to do. If her business were handed to you right now by magic, would you run it exactly the way she does? Probably not – you’d have your own spin and emphasis that would make it yours.

Noticing connections is another approach to originality. Take the iPod. When it was first launched, customers fell in love with its unique click-wheel interface. That wasn’t a new idea, though. The iPod’s click wheel was incorporated into its design after Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing guy, noticed it on a 1983 Hewlett Packard workstation. The click wheel was an old idea waiting to be dusted off and put to some other use.

So If you want to be more original, follow Apple’s lead and get curious. Read books no one else in your field is reading. Start noticing what’s going on around you. Then start making connections among unrelated parts of your everyday life. This is a killer hack for fostering originality.

But remember – originality isn’t just about ideas. You can also distinguish yourself by original communication. Developing a style is simple, but it takes practice. Head over to a site like and open a free blog. Write twice a week about a subject you’re passionate about, and publish the results – no matter what. This is one of the best ways of clarifying your thoughts. Over time, you’ll start to discover a message that’s uniquely yours.

There are four main types of free-range business.

So far, we’ve looked at the basics of the free-range mindset. That brings us to the next question – what do free-rangers actually do for a living? The most common idea the author hears from people who want to quit their jobs is “start a café/bookshop/B&B.” There’s nothing wrong with that if it really is your dream, but there are easier ways to make money as a free-range human.

The key message here is: There are four main types of free-range business.

When people dream about opening a cute little café, they’re usually not thinking about the reality of operating a small business, but rather the life they imagine comes with it. Put differently, what they want is independence and the ability to work at their own pace and set their own priorities.

But here’s the issue: cafés, shops, and B&Bs aren’t great free-range businesses. They all require large amounts of start-up capital and are hard to experiment with on the side. More importantly, it’s hard to make money with them. This is because you have to cover fixed costs like rent and utilities – and not being able to keep up with those is the number one reason new businesses go under. So here’s the first rule of free-ranging: keep costs to a minimum!

This leaves plenty of other options. Consider services. This is any job in which you get paid for your time – think web designers, therapists, and freelance writers. Services have one big advantage: you can often start right away if you already have the skills, and you may not have to invest much. On the negative side, they’re time-bound. Because you can only take so many clients in a month, there’s a hard limit on your earnings.

Another option is to sell virtual products – these include information contained in, say, e-books, guides, or online courses. Unlike services, there’s no hard limit on your earning power – once you’ve created your product, you can sell it again and again. The downside? You’ll need a lot of market knowledge to create a product that will sell in the first place.

You could also create physical products like hand-woven dog baskets or market stall food. This, however, is both time- and resource-intensive, so it’s an option you’ll probably want to avoid unless you’re truly passionate about your craft.

Finally, there’s advertising – a way to create revenue by placing ads on sites like YouTube or your personal blog. This is an easy option, but unless you’re regularly creating viral content, it’s best thought of as a supplement to your main income.

You don’t need a complex business plan to get a new company off the ground.

Has all this given you the urge to quit your job and strike out on your own? Great! Now all you need to do is craft that killer business plan, right? Not quite – in fact, detailed planning isn’t necessary at all when you’re just starting out.

The key message here is: You don’t need a complex business plan to get a new company off the ground.

Take it from business experts Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. As they point out in their 2010 book Rework, long-term business planning is often little more than a “fantasy.” With so many factors in play, plans are more like guesses than forecasts – strategic guesses, perhaps, but guesses nonetheless.

The problem here is that you usually gather the most information about something while you’re doing it, not before you’ve begun it. But plans are, by design, written before anything has happened – the very worst time to make decisions!

In any case, business plans aren’t meant to be a reliable guide to the future – they’re designed to convince investors to put money into a new venture. But remember what we said in the last chapter? The first rule of free-range businesses is to keep costs low. If you don’t need investment, you don’t need a detailed business plan.

This does mean you’ll be going into things unprepared, of course, but that’s kind of the point. By spending less time on planning, you’re freeing up more time for doing. So why is that important? Well, let’s ask Andrew Mason, the founder of Groupon, one of the most successful businesses of the twenty-first century.

Mason’s first business was a total flop because he was obsessed with planning. Rather than launching his product and letting actual customers tell him if it was any good, he spent a year making adjustments based on what he assumed people wanted. Groupon was different. Rather than getting caught up in planning, he decided to “get it out there” as soon as possible.

That’s an approach you should also take. Don’t spend too much time theorizing about people’s needs and desires – instead, run a micro prototype project with, say, ten people. Use your friends as guinea pigs, or find strangers on sites like Once you’ve done this, you’re no longer someone who’ll open a business “one day” – you’ll actually be in business!

You don’t have to appeal to everyone to be successful.

In the career-cage world, you’re in trouble if people don’t like what you’re saying. In most offices, the aim of the game is always the same: keep the peace, avoid controversy, get through the day, and emerge unscathed on the other side, paycheck in hand. Being a free-range human is different. One of the perks of freedom is that you get to say what you actually think without forfeiting your income.

The key message here is: You don’t have to appeal to everyone to be successful.

Two things happen when you pander to the common denominator. First off, you’ll struggle to make any money. If you want customers, you have to make a statement about who you are as a person and a business. The risk of that is that people might not like it. Second, you’ll be miserable. There’s nothing worse, after all, than pretending to be something you’re not. Luckily, there’s an alternative.

When you say what you mean, you’ll turn some people off – but you’ll also give others a reason to love you. The key to standing out is to home in on that second group and speak to them, and only them, using your authentic voice. What does that look like in practice? Take Benny Lewis, the mind behind Fluent in Three Months, a language-learning service with a difference.

Lewis is a bit of a divisive figure in the online language-learning community. Unlike most linguists, Lewis isn’t interested in learning or teaching others how to speak a language perfectly. As he sees it, the goal is communication – understanding others and being understood by them, regardless of how many mistakes you might make. This, he claims, is a skill that can be picked up within three months.

As Lewis admits, his idea that learning is something to get out of the way as quickly as possible so you can enjoy traveling isn’t popular among traditional language experts. But here’s the thing: all the bloggers who dislike Lewis end up writing about him and his method. Even if their reviews are negative, it still drives traffic to his site. As he puts it, “They have helped expand my readership by not liking me!”

The result? Lewis has one of the most popular online language-learning blogs in the world, which also earns him a full-time living. That just goes to show how far sticking to your true values can get you!

Final Summary

The key message in these summaries:

Going it alone and doing what you really want is often regarded as a risk that’s incompatible with paying the bills. But that idea only makes sense if your nine-to-five job gives you real security. In today’s economy, that’s rarely the case. This is why it makes sense to become a free-range human and run your own business. To do that, however, you first need to find out what you really want to do in life, uncover your hidden talents, and dispel some common myths about originality. The next step? Skip unnecessary planning, don’t be afraid to be unpopular, and jump right in!

Actionable advice: Don’t fall into the perfectionism trap.

“What if something goes wrong?” Striking out on your own can be scary, and you’re likely to be plagued by questions like this one. So look at it from a different angle. Consider how you feel right now, devoting the best years of your life to something that doesn’t feel right. Then ask yourself what the cost is of not trying something different. The only thing that involves absolutely no risk is doing nothing. That’s why it’s important not to get hung up on mistakes. Remember, this is an experiment, and you’re not putting any income on the line. From here on in, mistakes are just a way of learning about what works and what doesn’t.

About the author

Marianne Cantwell is a free-range human and an expert in helping others make the switch to a life they love. A popular speaker and consultant, she regularly runs courses on escaping the “corporate cage.” Her work has been featured on the BBC and in dozens of British and international newspapers and magazines.

Marianne Cantwell writes a popular blog, “Free Range Humans: Escape the corporate cage and live life on your terms,” and is an international speaker on escaping the “corporate cage” and creating a successful work life balance. She helps professionals escape the 9-5, ditch the commute and create free range careers, earning a regular income without an office or a boss. Having escaped the corporate cage herself, Cantwell now runs her business from her laptop on Bali beaches, in California cafes and by the Sydney seaside.

Marianne Cantwell is an expert on creating a free range career and a successful work-life that fits who you really are (and the life you want). The founder of Free Range Humans, and a leading TEDx speaker, thousands have done her courses on finding your ‘thing’ (and making it work for you). Her thinking has featured everywhere from Business Week and CBS MoneyWatch, to The Guardian, Daily Mail and Entrepreneur magazine.

A corporate escapee herself, she now lives and works in several countries (often between London and sunny California), and carries her business in a little laptop.


Business, Money, Job Hunting, Careers, Career Success, Career Development, Aging and Longevity, Personal Success, Self Help, Entrepreneurship, Personal Development, Inspirational, Psychology, Travel, Management

Table of Contents

Preface to the second edition




PART ONE: Get ready for the ride

Get set up to get the most from this journey.

Chapter 01: What your school career adviser never told you

  • The ‘safe job’ myth
  • Myth buster
  • Free range third way

Chapter 02: Why this matters now

  • What would you do if you had only one life?
  • Notes

PART TWO: Creating your free range life: How to decide what you really want

Dream big, discover your strengths and find out what to do when you want to do everything. Figure out what you really want.

Chapter 03: Why doing what you love is not negotiable

  • The two-step strategy

Chapter 04: Dream big – then get off your butt and do it

  • How to quit your job, write a book and get on TV (while baking cakes)
  • Dare to dream

Chapter 05: Defrosting – your secret weapon in figuring out what you want

  • Is your GPS out of whack?

Chapter 06: How to create your perfect ‘career’ when you want to do everything

  • The ‘one thing’ myth
  • Myth buster

Chapter 07: Spot your superpowers

  • Average is no longer an option
  • Weakness are just strengths in the wrong environment
  • How to use your strengths to find your thing

Chapter 08: Taking free range action

  • The ‘endless research’ myth
  • Myth buster
  • Free range third way
  • Notes

PART THREE: Think like a free range human

You don’t need a wildly original idea, oodles of experience, or even funding. How to start with what you have (and find out if your idea will work in two weeks). Decide on your new free range career (and make it fit you).


Chapter 09: Why you don’t need an original idea

  • The ‘originality’ myth
  • Myth buster
  • Free range third way

Chapter 10: Think beyond your job title

  • The ‘but I don’t have decades of experience’ myth
  • Myth buster
  • Free range third way

Chapter 11: What a free range business looks like

  • Five free range business types (plus one extra option)

Chapter 12: How to free range-ify your idea

Chapter 13: How to start with what you have

  • The 100k question
  • Get Champagne results on a Chardonnay budget

Chapter 14: How to know if your idea will work

  • How to know if your idea can pay enough
  • How to know if people will really pay for what you have to offer
  • Where are you in your idea?


  • Notes

Interlude: Free range reality check

A rush of inspiration and free range thinking (how to overcome those ‘reasons why not’ and make anything happen)

Chapter 15: Meet the people who don’t want you to escape the career cage

  • The truth is the beige army is just a group of scared but vocal people
  • The beige army’s biggest weapon is its pretence that it represents everyone

Chapter 16: What to do with those Reasons Why Not

  • The ‘not for the likes of me’ myth
  • Myth buster
  • Free range third way

Chapter 17: Wait, but what if I’m not a shiny-haired, always-confident entrepreneur?

  • Free range thinking (under the surface)


  • Notes

PART FOUR: Build your free range escape hatch

Get started, stand out from the crowd, get known fast and get paid (without changing your personality). How to make things work and break free, on your terms.

Chapter 18: Making a living without an office

Chapter 19: Why you don’t need a business plan

  • The ‘research’ myth
  • Myth buster
  • Free range third way

Chapter 20: Why you don’t need to appeal to everyone

  • Big lives come from bold steps
  • My journey from bland to bold

Chapter 21: How to decide who gets to give you money

  • From burnout to brilliant: a real-life turnaround
  • How to choose your niche

Chapter 22: How to brand like a rock star

  • The power of branding as you
  • Your brand is more than a name

Chapter 23: How to stand out from the crowd

  • How to stand out (by being more you)
  • Who am I again? (the problem with personal branding)

Chapter 24: The three Free Range Styles

  • What are the Free Range Style?
  • Bringing this to life

Chapter 25: The Free Range Faststart

  • How to do the Free Range Faststart
  • Choosing your Faststart partners
  • Faststart with Style

FREE RANGE PROFILE: Connie’s story

Chapter 26: Instant status

  • Status hacking
  • Three pillars of instant status

Chapter 27: How to communicate in an unsucky way

  • Speak human

Chapter 28: Why you don’t have to be an all-rounder

Chapter 29: How to sell without selling your soul

  • The four Es of selling without selling your soul

Chapter 30: Get comfortable with setting your salary

Chapter 31: Overcoming information overwhelm

  • Filter 1. Is this right for who I am?
  • Filter 2. Is this right for where I am?

Chapter 32: What to do when you get stuck

  • When to give up
  • When to give in

Chapter 33: Living and working anywhere

  • Choose your own adventure

Chapter 34: How to quit your job: 10 steps to freedom

  • Note




For Marianne Cantwell, Free Range Humans are “a growing tribe, easily spotted by the smiles on their faces on Monday mornings.” They are people that have figured out what they want to do with their lives and they are doing it, right now. They choose when, where and how they work, and get paid to do what makes them come alive. They have decided to live their life every day, not just weekends.

Lighthearted in style but serious in intention, this is a practical guide to creating a life of fulfillment. Life coach Cantwell – herself a career shifter – helps mid-career professionals work out what they really want. She addresses the things that career changers think they need but don’t: a job; an MBA; a big investment; a fancy website, and shows how to build not just a business but a life that works for them.

Be a Free Range Human is a valuable contribution for those new to personal growth and struggling with work-life balance.

DISTINGUISHED FAVORITE: NYC Big Book Award 2020 – Career

Trapped in a job or business that’s “just not you”? Always dreaming of your next vacation or living for the weekend? Marianne Cantwell’s straight-talking bestseller will help you break out of that career cage and Be A Free Range Human. It’s about much more than just quitting your job and becoming your own boss. It’s about life on your terms, working when, where and how you want – so you don’t have to fit yourself into someone else’s box to make a great income. This second edition won’t just inspire you, it will give you unconventional and practical steps to:

  • Discover what you really want to do with your life (even if no answer has ever fully fit)
  • Get started in 90 days, with what you have
  • Create a free range career, tailor-made for you and the life you want (be it travelling the world or hanging out in your favourite café)
  • Stand out from the crowd and get paid well to be you

Be A Free Range Human was one of the first and most popular guides to creating a custom career (without an office or a boss). Updated with new advice on how to make free range work for your personality (you don’t need to be a constantly-networking extrovert. have an MBA, or get funding), this smart, energizing guide will help you cut through the noise, see your options in a new way, and get the freedom and fulfilment you crave.

Read an Excerpt

Be a Free Range Human - Escape the 9-5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills Excerpt - Marianne Cantwell - Dare to Dream

Video/Podcast/PDF Preview

    Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

    Your Support Matters...

    We run an independent site that\'s committed to delivering valuable content, but it comes with its challenges. Many of our readers use ad blockers, causing our advertising revenue to decline. Unlike some websites, we haven\'t implemented paywalls to restrict access. Your support can make a significant difference. If you find this website useful and choose to support us, it would greatly secure our future. We appreciate your help. If you\'re currently using an ad blocker, please consider disabling it for our site. Thank you for your understanding and support.