Someone very dear to me quit her job this week, without any idea of what she'll do next.
For the first time in her life, she does not have a plan. For the first time in her life, she is taking a RISK with her "one wild and precious life" -- letting go of the known trapeze, and flinging her fingers out into open sky.
Of course, she is terrified. What if other hands don't appear to grab hers in time? What if the free fall lasts too long? What if she depletes her savings and has to live on ramen noodles and cans of tuna?
Or what if she's burned an important bridge?
After all, everyone ELSE who's left the company has done so at the behest of a legitimate reason --to attend grad school, or accept a competitor's offer -- for which they were warmly celebrated.
But not her. She is not "trading up" in a way that anyone can recognize. She does not have a sanctioned path to point to, nothing waiting in the wings, no easy way to reassure those around her that she's making the right choice.
At this point, she doesn't even have a story to tell about what, exactly, she will do next.
Which is not to say she did anything rash -- to the contrary, it took her MONTHS of introspection and debate to arrive at her decision. It took no small amount of encouragement from those close to her, to help her accept what she already knew.
And what she knew, on a soul level, was that to allow momentum to carry her further down the path she was on, would be to allow her life -- and her contribution -- to stay small.
... So she took a deep breath -- and she took the leap.
Because what else can you do, once you know that?
And yet many of us make the choice to stay small every day, in exchange for a steady paycheck and healthy benefits. And it's easy to understand why people routinely make this fatal trade -- as evidenced by the fact that my friend immediately scheduled back-to-back appointments with her primary care doctor, eye doctor AND dentist.
But as we sat outside, savoring the slanting light on a late spring afternoon, she confessed that
it wasn't the loss of security that she found the scariest. Despite some fear, she knew she would survive; she knew that she would ultimately find another job that's more aligned (after the requisite month away from anything remotely related to computers and/or networking).
Rather, what she found the most intimidating was the idea of being confronted with freedom -- real, profound, bottomless, dizzying freedom -- for the first time in her adult life.
... What would she do with it? How would she fill her days? She wants, on some level, to create -- but create what? What does it mean to live well, to live meaningfully? How does one find a sense of community, of belonging, of purpose -- when it's not manufactured for you, by an organization?
When most of us speak of freedom (myself included), it tends to come somewhat drenched in romance; as though all problems and limits would disappear, if only we had realfreedom. And, given that most of us spent (at least)the first two decades of our lives being told what's important and how to spend our time, it's understandable why we would view freedom through this lens.
But the reality is that true freedom can be a wildly disorienting experience.
So while we may consciously tell stories about how we CAN'T quit the job we hate because we need to eat and pay the mortgage -- perhaps, unconsciously, we don't WANT to quit.
Because if we did, we would have no choice but to confront the question mark of our own significance; the exquisite loneliness of deciding what to do with our freedom; and what our choices might reveal... about who we truly are.