Diana Renner and I were discussing working out loud this week when Diana mentioned that she had an unpublished blog post in development that I recognised as the feeling of the ‘trembling finger’ when I am about to work out loud.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 – Simon Terry
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 anyway.
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.