Against The Flow
A free individualist is a peculiar being. If you choose to be free, you will be very unusual, and however you choose to secure your freedom and live your life, it will not be a "usual" life. Look around you at all those who continue to live in slavery to the state—that is the usual.
The peculiarity of the free is not any kind of oddness or abnormality. In some ways the independent individualist is the most normal of human beings, a fully integrated personality, and because that kind of being is so rare, he is extremely unusual.
An independent individual cannot be like others, and needs to make no apology about it. If anyone ought to apologize it is those others who are unable to recognize the independent individualist for what he is.
It has always been this way.
"From the beginning of history, two antagonists have stood face to face, two opposite types of men: the Active and the Passive. The Active Man is the producer, the creator, the originator, the individualist. His basic need is independence—in order to think and work." [Emphasis mine.] [For the New Intellectual, "The Fountainhead, The Soul Of An Individualist."]
Choosing Is Creating
The hallmark of the free individual is that all he does he freely chooses to do. Every choice one makes, using their own mind and knowledge to make it, is an act of creation, an action only that individual could have made—even if others have done similar things. What makes it a creation is the fact it was chosen by one's own reason and not copied from others or in following or obeying others. It is an act unique to that individual.
Every thought one has by by his own rational decision, every action one takes by his own rational volition is a new thing that would not exist if he had not thought or done it.
The free individual is himself a creation; he is his own creation:
"Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value and, like all of man's values, it has to be earned—that of any achievements open to you, the one that makes all others possible is the creation of your own character—that your character, your actions, your desires, your emotions are the products of the premises held by your mind—that as man must produce the physical values he needs to sustain his life, so he must acquire the values of character that make his life worth sustaining—that as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul—that to live requires a sense of self-value, but man, who has no automatic values, has no automatic sense of self-esteem and must earn it by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man, the rational being he is born able to create, but must create by choice—that the first precondition of self-esteem is that radiant selfishness of soul which desires the best in all things, in values of matter and spirit, a soul that seeks above all else to achieve its own moral perfection, valuing nothing higher than itself." [Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Part Three / Chapter VII, "This Is John Galt Speaking."]
A Different Way
The free individual is different because he is, first and foremost, a creator and because all his thoughts and choices are his own—he follows no leader, only the leading of his own reason; he accepts no authority except the authority of his own mind. He gladly learns from others, but what he learns from them he only accepts on the basis of his own understanding of what he has learned. He does nothing because anyone else does it, he thinks nothing because anyone else thinks it, and he chooses nothing because anyone else chooses it.
Because he is a creator, what he does is often what no one else does, and what he thinks is often what no one else thinks, and what he choose is often what no one else chooses. If he were only doing what others were already doing, thinking what others had already thought, and choosing only what others had chosen, he would not be a creator at all.
More often than not, the independent individualist will be going in the opposite direction from all other men.
"Men have been taught that it is a virtue to agree with others. But the creator is the man who disagrees. Men have been taught that it is a virtue to swim with the current. But the creator is the man who goes against the current. Men have been taught that it is a virtue to stand together. But the creator is the man who stands alone." [Ayn Rand, For The New Intellectual - The Fountainhead, "The Soul Of An Individualist"]
To be free means to, "stand alone," and not be swept along in the tide of humanity rushing headlong to their own enslavement and eventual destruction.
[NOTE: Free independent individuals are, in fact, the only creators. See "Only Individuals."]