The dizziness of freedom
Freed from the former law of gravity, we found ourselves afloat
For our lives, the lives of our parents, and our parents’ parents, we were subject to a certain law of gravity.
You moved to a place, found a job, found a community within that place (neighbors, coworkers, church-members), and lived out your life.
Job determined place. Place determined community. Community clarified sense of self.
This place-based bundle exerted a significant gravitational pull. And that pull held you to that place.
If you contemplated leaving that place, you felt resistance.
Do I want to give up my community, my home, my coworkers, my income, my neighbors, my kids’ school, my spouse’s career, my sense of place in this world, my mailing address?
Of course, people did sometimes uproot themselves. It was possible to overcome that resistance and escape life's gravity. Especially when younger and single. Or launched by a propellent of a major life event: A child, a divorce, a big promotion.
But it was a big deal to do so.
As life events, "we're moving away" is right up there with "we're getting married." We hold celebrations for both.
If you moved, you found yourself in a different place that obeyed the same fundamental law of place-based gravity. If all went well, you found yourself secure, stable, cemented, and somewhat stuck.
Then the pandemic happened
At first, gravity strengthened.
Earth became Jupiter.
People felt suffocated. But this is just temporary, we thought. A few months of lockdown and back to the old way.
And then employers started making announcements: Remote for the summer, then remote for the year, then remote forever.
With each announcement, gravity weakened.
Earth became Mars.
Realizations sank in - I'm no longer held down. I can work from anywhere. I can work anytime. I can join up with whoever I want. I can be whoever I want to be.
First: Free, floating, ecstatic, unburdened.
Pajama pants on Zoom, yoga at noon, working from Hawaii, spending a leisurely month or two with family.
Next: Confused, anxious, overwhelmed.
Where should I live? How should I exist?
Should I relocate? Will I find new community there?
Should I return home? Will my old community still be there?
Anxiety ramping up, FOMO kicking in, feeling lost.
Feeling nostalgic for the safe secure embrace of the Old Life's Gravity.
Kierkegaard said “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” He spoke the words in 1844, but they've taken on more ferocity in our modern world.
No longer is it “choose a city and a job in that city” and everything falls into place. Now: Choose from 100 employers, 1000 cities, 10,000 communities online and offline, and innumerable ways to construct your day.
This is our collective dizzying headspace. Equal parts oppressive and freeing. Equal parts anxious and exhilarating.
Seeking new centers of mass
Now, we seek the comforting tug of gravity once again.
We look to pulls from new directions.
I have these friends. Maybe we all buy a piece of land and raise kids together.
That squad will become my center of mass.
There's this place I can go to make it big as an influencer.
That goal will become my center of mass.
There's a group wanting to change careers and doing this program together.
That cohort will become my center of mass.
Someone's starting a new city that conforms to my values and vision for the world.
That destination will become my center of mass.
I'll buy a van. See every sunrise and sunset. Caravan with other van-lifers.
That scene will become my center of mass.
Emerging: New potential sources of gravity, new attractors.
Squad, goal, cohort, destination, scene. All candidates for centers of mass.
The last round was about putting everything into the cloud. Nowhere in particular, yet everywhere at the same time.
This round will be somewhere specific. A thing you can point to, online or offline.
Gravity exerts itself from an identifiable direction.
The age of new attractors. The new laws of life's gravity.
We'll see the formation of new companies, new collectives, new ways of organizing, new culture, new lifestyles, and also new divisions.
We will once again feel the comforting pull of life's gravity. We will eventually calm our dizziness.
… but not quite yet.
Upcoming posts - Exploring potential new sources of gravity in this remote world.
In the queue: How to create new cities, the tiny-home-with-friends dream, the difference between a community and a scene, and a 3-part essay on a single Balaji tweet.
Send to anyone who might be interested…
Thanks to Jason Benn, Gina Gutierrez, Jessica Cole, Victoria Perweiler, Jonathan Hillis, Miles Lasater, Colin O’Donnell, David Booth, Kristen Berman, Erik Torenberg, and Tim Schwartz for helping me develop some of the thinking behind this (and future) posts.