May 21, 2011 § 1 Comment
When I decided to learn more about philosophy this week I found a great book, The Philosophy Book, that gives a quick & interesting background on many of the ideas we’ve all heard but may not have known where they come from. It’s a great book to get an overview on.
One of the ideas that struck me the most was from Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher considered the father of existentialism who wrote “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”.
He uses an analogy I can relate well to (given my extreme fear of heights) of a person standing on a cliff or a tall building looking down. He says that person will experience two distinct types of fear. One fear is of falling while the other is fear brought on by the impulse to throw himself off the edge. It’s the second type, anxiety, that comes from the realization he or she has absolute freedom to choose whether to jump or not.
Kierkegaard argues people feel the same “dizzying” feeling in their lives when they realize they have complete freedom to make their own decisions. It can be terrifying to know what to do with your life sometimes. I’ve had many moments of anxiety over the past year as I’ve transitioned from working all the time to exploring other things. There’s something that feels safe and secure about having the routine of a full time job. It’s scary not to know what I “should” be doing with my time and feeling uncertain about my next paycheck.
Kierkegaard goes on to say that while having so much choice can induce a bit of despair, it also shakes us from our unthinking responses by making us more aware of the available choices. As a result we are more self-aware by opening ourselves up to what else might be out there.
I know so many people who feel stuck in what they’re doing sometimes and are afraid to re-invent themselves because it’s an unknown. I also know a lot of people who, by choice or circumstances, have embraced the “dizziness of freedom” to see what else they might like to do. I really can’t think of a single case where that person wasn’t happier or at least closer to doing what made them happy.
I guess you just have to tell yourself it’s not like you’re jumping off a cliff or anything.