I grew up believing Chevy Chase’s character in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was a fairly accurate reflection of grown-up life in corporate America: People in suits, some work – done mostly off camera and not too demanding, maybe involving marketing and cereal varnish. There would be plenty of time for Christmas shopping during the day. Annual bonus buys you a swimming pool.

Like many people raised on this expectation, the truth was a shock. First of all, the amount of work was grossly misrepresented. I remember a birthday (mine) spent working at my corporate gig until after 7 p.m. on a graphic representation of a decision pyramid. My boss lurked over my shoulder hunched like the cartoon vultures from the Jungle Book. My house was filled with guests waiting to celebrate me. Then, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for our area of town. This was not a watch mind you – but a warning, as in, there is an actual tornado near you, so do not walk, run to the nearest shelter and pull a mattress on top of yourself.  Tornado sirens blared. My boss and I stayed put and continued feverishly plodding towards a made up and unrealistic internal deadline, aggressively ignoring the flight to shelter in the parking garage … and the decision pyramid never saw the light of day. It was all for nothing.

Many of us have been in similar situations – and they’re a big part of the reason why many talented employees are opting out of corporate America. They are also part of the reason why those impacted by staff reductions during the downturn turned consultant and aren’t looking back, putting corporate America far behind them.

Today, most traditional workers are dissatisfied. Oh, and by the way, how you feel about your job and the work you do plays a big role in your overall health and well-being. That’s why it’s a big deal that as of April 2012, 52.5 percent of traditional workers in America were not satisfied with their jobs. The figure is up significantly from 2008, when 48.1 percent of workers were dissatisfied.

According to an ongoing Well-Being poll from Gallup, seventy-one percent of American workers are either not engaged, or are actively disengaged in their work. This 71 percent of the work force is less productive and emotionally disconnected from the company they work for. Most of these people simply sleepwalk through their day, but an astonishing 18 percent are actively disengaged, actually undermining the work an engaged employee accomplishes. People who are actively disengaged are more likely to be in poor health.

The items Gallup considers vital to well-being at work are job satisfaction, the ability to use one’s strengths at work, supervisor’s treatment (more like a boss or a partner) and if a supervisor creates an open and trusting work environment. I would add another component Gallup measures to the mix, a proven driver of well-being, whether or not you learn anything new each day. The places in America with the highest well-being all score better than average in these areas.

So, full-timers are overworked after massive layoffs, they live in an employer’s market (there are multiple people out there who would love your job if you’re going to complain), dogged by fears of unemployment, but they’re likely to be looking for another job anyway.  Why?  If risking one’s life for a Gant Chart that no one ever sees isn’t enough for you, workers today are less likely to be receiving fair compensation, raises, bonuses or other pay increases.

Life is not so rosy for employers, either. The economy has yet to recover from the recession. Health care as a percentage has skyrocketed. Presentism and an unengaged work force drag down corporate productivity. Each body filling a cube is a tremendous investment … and potentially a liability. How do you know that the people you hire will be more engaged, will work hard enough to be worth the sizable investment?  And by now it’s old news that unhappy workers are not good for a company’s bottom line.

This is why more and more smart, talented and creative employees are blowing off corporate life and striking out on their own as freelance consultants.  It’s also why companies big and small increasingly seeks out their services rather than hire full-timers. .

I’ve spoken to scores of former corporate folks like myself, most of them in creative disciplines – think coding, design and advertising – who despite the hardships of going it alone are doing exactly that.

Here are five reasons why:

  1. You can learn something new, every day. You are keeping your skills fresh. You are able to challenge yourself. You are definitely not doing the same thing every day. You are probably spending less time surfing the internet. So, you may not have the budget to farm out the maintenance of that blog you just pitched as a communication solution, but instead you are learning how to do it yourself. Learning more, improving your skillset and marketability while also flexing your creative muscle. This is good for happiness and overall well-being
  2. Consultants can do the high quality work they couldn’t – because of mismanagement, bureaucracy, meeting overload, completing priorities, etc. – in their last corporate job.
  3. You spend your time to benefit you. You decide what to do and when to do it. A recent poll said 90 percent of executives’ work day is spent in meetings. Corporate America’s meetings are often unproductive and many are unneeded. Consultants only do meetings when they are actually necessary. To their job.
  4. Your job in corporate America was a dead end.
  5. You have the chance to be the person you wanted to be when you grew up …

Personal fulfillment and improved well-being. That’s a perk that rivals the Griswold’s new swimming pool.