Diana Renner and I were discussing working out loud this week when Diana mentioned that she had an unpublished blog post in development that I recognised as the feeling of the ‘trembling finger’ when I am about to work out loud. This guest post is a result of that conversation. It is too good not to be widely shared.
The Dizziness of Freedom
“…creating, actualising one’s
possibilities, always involves negative as well as positive aspects. It always
involves destroying the status quo, destroying all patterns with oneself,
progressively destroying what one has clung to from childhood on, and creating
new and original forms and ways of living”
It has been almost two years since I stepped
into the unknown and became an independent consultant. Looking back, it feels
less like a step and more like a leap. In a single gesture of defiance, I
traded security for freedom, leaving behind a relatively comfortable,
predictable role in a large organisation. I had never expected to end up
working on my own. But the promise of freedom was alluring. It still is. At the
same time freedom opens up possibilities that are terrifying.
In his book The Concept of Anxiety,
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard explores
the immense feelings of dread that accompany that moment when we find ourselves
at a crossroads in life. The moment when the choice to do something hangs in
perfect balance with the choice to do nothing. Kierkegaard uses the example of
a man standing on the edge of a tall building or cliff, from where he can see
all the possibilities of life. As he looks over the edge, he experiences both a
fear of falling and at the same time a terrifying impulse to throw himself
intentionally off the edge.
Every edge I have stood on has provoked
feelings of dread and excitement. Whether going into a first meeting with a new
client, writing a few pages in my book, or facing a bored and unmotivated
group, I have struggled with what Kierkegaard calls our dizziness of freedom.
Just like Kierkegaard’s protagonist,
staring into the space below, I have contemplated many times whether to throw
myself off or to stay put.
However, what seemed risky and largely unknown
two years ago rapidly has become part of a familiar landscape. It would be
natural to relax and enjoy the view… Yet I have
learned that it is at this very point that I need to become more vigilant than
ever and exercise my freedom to choose in three key ways:
- To rally against the safe but numbing comfort of the status
quo. I need to keep reminding myself that the
greatest learning is just outside of my comfort zone. I need to keep stretching
myself to keep growing.
- To resist the strong
pull of the crowd. I have found perspective on the
margins, not looking to the outside for approval or acceptance, not following a
trend just because everyone else is following it.
- To interrogate the
world’s criteria for what is good or successful. I am suspicious when I am being offered a formula to quick success
or many riches. It is powerful to be able to question mainstream expectations,
and carve my own path with courage and purpose.
The responsibility that comes with the freedom
to choose is terrifying. But the cost of not choosing is even more so.
We need to welcome this dizziness of
freedom as a sign that we are, in fact, just where we need to be. A sign
that we need to slow down and reflect on the risk, then step off the edge
Diana Renner – Leadership consultant, facilitator, author of ‘Not Knowing – the art of turning uncertainty into opportunity’, Chartered Management Institute Book of the Year 2015, UK.