Freedom

I’m not sure if today’s blog post is going to hang together coherently. There are a few themes running through my head that all connect, but I’m not quite convinced I’ve connected them yet. See what you think.

Anyway. A couple of weeks ago, while attending Mass in Singapore, I listened to a homily about freedom. The message was that freedom shouldn’t be equated with liberation.

Dictionaries commonly define freedom first and foremost as “the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants”. Liberation, meanwhile, is commonly “freedom from limits on thought or behaviour”. So, a bit of a circular reference, but the point was that freedom shouldn’t be about self-gain – what I want, when I want – but should instead be about exercising free will in the service of others, with conscience and responsibility.

Now, there was obviously a religious slant to this, but whether you are of any other faith or none, I thought there was something to reflect on and find relevance in. I last wrote about freedom in the context of wandering, in the context of a book I’ve been reading called “A Little Nostalgia for Freedom” (Steve Bonham). And when I think about wandering, I think about wandering with a purpose. Not to get somewhere, because that is somewhat paradoxical, but as part of inhabiting the world in a certain way; as part of an active choice to remain in a mode of inquiry.

Which brings me to the choices we make. I’ve argued before that everything we do is an act of choice – even when it might seem that we haven’t got a say in a matter, we remain in control of how we react and respond to our circumstances. Henley writes in Invictus: “It matters not how strait the gate/How charged with punishments the scroll/I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul.” The truth is the same for the freedoms we exercise. I think that rights necessarily come with responsibilities and limits, because to argue otherwise leads to anarchy. So in freedom we have to take responsibility for the ways in which we choose to think and act.

You could look at this in two ways – responsibility to self, and responsibility to others. First, there is little point in blaming others for the decisions we make. To do so is to play victim and that’s a slippery slope that comes to no good end. Beyond this, I like to think that there will always be a moral core of decency in people that chooses to look for the best in others and tries often to act for the higher good rather than the selfish gain.

My own take-home message: In a world where you could choose to be lots of things? Choose to be kind.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

What motivates you?

motivation trifecta-3

A little while ago I posted about the book Drive (Daniel Pink) and the ‘motivation trifecta’. The idea is that, in contrast to the (outdated) carrot-and-stick paradigm, we’re all catalysed by basic drives to achieve three things: autonomy (the desire for self-direction); mastery (the desire to keep getting better at something that matters to us); and purpose (the desire to connect to a greater and meaningful cause). In brief? We want to be good at something that has meaning for us, and to be allowed to get on with it.

There’s a great summary in the video below (adapted from a talk given by Daniel Pink at the RSA).

When it comes to work, I like to equate autonomy with being given a licence to operate. One of the (suite of) very appealing things that self-employment has brought is that I no longer need to navigate a host of red tape to get things implemented. Employers take note – if you spend time on recruiting the right staff, then let those people do their jobs without being micromanaged. Trust that they know how to consult on and mitigate any major risks, and let them ask for forgiveness for the minority of things that might go slightly wrong, rather than require them to ask for permission for the things that should be within their remit and control.

Outside of an organisational context, I like to think of the principle of autonomy in the context of the control you have over your life. Working with clients, I often introduce concepts relating to constructionism and narrative: becoming the author of your own story, rather than acting out or directing a script that someone else has created for you.

With mastery, the starting point is the flow state, where the challenges you’re faced with are aligned with your abilities so that you’re doing tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult (aka ‘Goldilocks tasks’). It’s the space where peak experiences live: where you lose track of time because you’re so in the moment; where you’re absorbed in what feels effortless and thoroughly enjoyable; where you’re using your learned and innate skills and abilities, everything is going well, and you know you’re going to be successful.

You flow in the moment, but mastery emerges over a much longer period – months, years, decades. Hence Pink’s first law of mastery: mastery is a pain. Grit isn’t the easiest thing to learn, but it’s a vital companion to talent.

The second law of mastery is mastery is a mindset. If you’re not familiar with Carol Dweck’s work on the importance of cultivating a growth mindset, it’s definitely worth taking a look at. Building on the first law, the growth mindset says that innate talent, intelligence and ability is just the starting point, and needs to be augmented and developed through learning and effort. Believe that you can, work for it, and success is within your grasp.

My favourite’s the last law, though: mastery is an asymptote.

This one’s for all you perfectionists out there. Just like an asymptote, mastery is something that you’ll approach, but never quite reach. So reach for it, if you will, but gain your joy from the pursuit and don’t get discouraged when it eludes you.

Finally, on the question of purpose: what meaning do you seek, and what purpose does your work fulfil? If your core values aren’t met by your work, are they aligned with something you are pursuing elsewhere in your life? Do you know how your work contributes to a larger cause (and do you care about that cause)? If you’re yearning for something, to do what you do in the service of something larger than yourself – go and find out what that something is. And then go get it. Life is too short to keep thinking you should be doing something worthwhile, yet not doing anything about it.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with Pink’s motivational trifecta?

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

What do you believe in?

The Apostles' Creed

El Credo (the Apostles’ Creed), etched into the floor at the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela – today reminding me of my faith and what I believe in.

We all believe in something, whether we are religious or spiritual or nothing of the sort. It grounds us, keeps us on track and reminds us of why we’re doing what we’re doing.

What are you working for? Who are you working for? What purpose are you working towards?

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd