Psychic autonomy: to cut the mental cords that bind you so as to free up your capacity for new experiences, new relationships, and new insights;
the freedom to know yourself anew.
When I’m slowly watering my tomato plants in the early mornings, existential questions swirl around in the dewy periphery. I swear my vegetable garden knows the secrets of the universe. Lately, I’ve been asking it questions about freedom.
What does it mean to be free?
Free your mind of something?
Free to go toward something?
The greatest freedom, my tomatoes and I agree, is freedom within oneself. A type of freedom that takes place inside you, that breaks mental and energetic ties to some outside force that may otherwise dominate or constrict your life or work. [envoke_twitter_link]This is psychic autonomy: making room for your genuine, creative self to thrive.[/envoke_twitter_link]
Take Mark, for example, a leader I worked with many years ago. As the General Counsel for a growing healthcare technology firm, he was known for playing it safe. He performed fine in his role, but he wasn’t inspiring followership. Instead, his dispassion emanated through the organization with an overall malaise. He personified “meh.”
Deep inside, Mark was gripped by fear of his boss, the CEO. In budget season especially, his boss grew highly controlling, sending intense emails at all hours of the night, and generally creating an environment akin to a pressure cooker. Everyone, not just Mark, was terrified to fail or lose favor with the CEO. People complied, but they were not committed. And they were certainly not engaged or excited about going to work everyday.
Mark’s (and everyone else’s) best performance was tamped down by rampant control, demands, fear, and judgment. The organization lost (or diminished) way too much of its people’s potential. It, and they, could have been so much more. This is that outside dominant force.
“Conceptual creativity requires psychic freedom.” – John G. Young
In my own work life, I have felt that stranglehold of fear, compliance, and obligation. I know what it’s like to be disempowered, both self-inflicted and organization-inflicted. Being trapped or tamped down sucks your energy, passion and vitality right down the drain—the syllabus for Misery 101.
In an environment where we feel obligated or fearful, we drastically limit our creativity, our curiosity, and our impact. The organizations we are a part of lose out on our true talents. We become robotic and unnatural, stifled and generic.
Leader or not, I want your best self to shine. I want you to be free to share your creative genius. I want you to guide yourself and others with honesty, heart, and inspiration.
To do so, you must have mental freedom—psychic autonomy—to fail and know that it will be okay. You must have the mental space to let your mind wander and dream up wild possibilities without fear of retribution. You must know that your organization genuinely supports your wellbeing and self-expression. You have to feel that you don’t have to hide.
During the Holocaust, one of the very worst circumstances in recent history, Victor Frankl discovered that despite the literal horrors surrounding him, he was in control of his inner state. Only he could grant himself mental clarity, peace with his circumstances, and balanced emotions. That would remain in his charge. Psychic autonomy then, as Frankl so bravely and brilliantly reminds us, is an inside job. Each of us, regardless of how stifling our environment may be, has that choice.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
– Victor Frankl
Here’s your opportunity:
- Grant yourself some space. Notice where you are not feeling free, where obligation, duty, or fear reign. Ask yourself, “Where would a healthy dose of psychic autonomy enrich my life and my work?”
- Grant people around you some space. Ask them what level of psychic autonomy they need to engage with you authentically. Give up the idea of controlling them and gain true commitment from your teammates. The more you let go of your attachments (to them/to an outcome), the more freedom you give others to find their own solutions, likely better ones, in service of your shared goals.
- If you’re a business leader and feel stuck, disempowered, and a little hopeless in the quest for freedom, please reach out. Call me. Now is the perfect time to engage in executive coaching and find a powerful way out/forward. I promise to have your back, to support you in finding your own psychic autonomy in the area of your work-life that is most important to you.
When we have a sufficient level of mental capacity, we have the room to show up as our biggest, best selves. For you leaders out there, this is not just a fluffy idea, but rather a must-have for high-performance. Human potential is a gorgeous thing. Now let’s get out of our own way.