One Monday morning, two years ago, I went into work and handed in my notice.
At the time, this felt like a spur of the moment decision. I had no shiny job offer elsewhere, and it wasn’t part of any five year plan; to be honest, I barely had a plan beyond my five week notice period. But ultimately it proved to be the most rewarding decision I’ve made in my career to date.
For me, like many others, such moments – where you take ownership of your life – can be few and far between.
In an age of overstimulation; of Starbucks menu options; of Whatsapp messages received in splintered streams of consciousness; of push notifications sliding over your innermost thoughts, ‘listening to your gut’ isn’t so simple.
It’s never been easier to distract yourself from facing the important decisions in your life; distractions you invite into your life to shield yourself from facing up to your own autonomy.
And so, without friction – those exceptional obstacles and setbacks which force you to act and intervene, like a death or a serious illness or a break-up or getting fired – you drift through life without intervening. You’re The Graduate’s Benjamin Braddock, or The Great Gatsby’s Jay, floating on a lilo as the world goes on around you.
But I’ve come to realise you can only silence your inner voice so much until your subconscious gets involved.
I’d always thought the notion of Freudian slips only applied to verbal mistakes – like ordering ‘house red’ when you actually meant to say water. Recently, someone told me Freud applied it to actions, too, like losing or finding significant objects.
So what if this goes further than simply leaving your wedding ring in your freezer? What if many of us conduct our lives as a series of Freudian slips?
It’s mumbling the sentence you’re too scared to say aloud under your breath; it’s purposefully jeopardising a friendship or relationship rather than conjuring up the courage to end it; it’s fluffing up the interview for the job you didn’t believe yourself worthy of in the first place.
Clearly, letting your subconscious desires take control won’t enable you to live your best life. Yet making conscious intervention in your life often seems more fear-inducing. In the words of spiritual activist Marianne Williamson, our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
Making a firm decision, closing a door, saying ‘thank u, next’ to that which keeps you happy and comfortable – it always makes you feel like you’re leaping off a cliff with no guarantee that your parachute will kick in. Many of us drift through our lives, refusing to take that step – and it’s so easy to see why. If you try, you might fail. If you act, you might regret.
But you know what’s worse? The helplessness of a situation where you didn’t take control. Failing a test you didn’t prepare for. Missing a bus you didn’t run for. Getting dumped by someone cruel because you didn’t have the courage to assert how you deserve to be treated. Not telling someone how much they mean to you, until it’s too late. Missing out on the job you deserved. Never writing that book. Losing precious weeks, months, years to your own lack of courage; your own failure to live up to your autonomy.
So, instead, be bold. Because boldness pays off. Confront your career; confront your relationships; confront your passion. Live your life like you’re doing it on purpose, because you only get one.