As a humble observer, I believe there is often a silent acknowledgement among many that the notion of “surrendering” or “giving up” is often associated with failure or lack of character. This may be a very simplistic or almost child-like diagnosis of a multi-layered psychological conditioning process, but it certainly reverberates through our storytelling narrative and our highly romanticized admiration for the resilient battler, who achieves the impossible, against all the odds.
Until recently, this all made perfect sense to me and was a convenient truth about how in “control” of everything we really are. If you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything, right? We are completely in control of our own destiny and however tough it may get, if you keep pushing forward you will reach the summit.
Then the unthinkable happened, the prolonged stage four lockdown in one of the most liveable cities in the world. Suddenly, large computer modelling simulations were now in control of our every move. As an economics graduate twenty years ago and well trained in the neoclassical way of thinking, the reliance and influence of mathematical modelling should have provided a sense of comfort or even conviction. Instead, waking up every morning to this dystopian realisation certainly gave a big jolt to the belief system with new questions being asked: “are we really in control at all?” Now, to be clear, this piece is not about right or wrong or any political disposition. We all know there are no “good” choices in this crisis, but the whole idea of being in control of our lives was (is) being put to the test. Rattled and somewhat confused, I reconnected with my academic roots and turned to the brilliant economist, Tomas Sedlacek, for some much-needed guidance and introspection to try and make sense of the world around us. His ground-breaking book: “Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street”, provided immense clarity of how economic thought is so greatly informed by philosophy, psychology, religion and most of the social sciences in fact. So, you ask, what has this got to do with learning to let go or surrendering? Well, it allowed me to be more open, question the status quo within my own mind and see things from an entirely different perspective.
It got me reflecting on a recent episode when succumbing to taking a seat on a scary rollercoaster ride (against my better judgement). But for those few seconds, when it all goes downhill, literally, there is this moment, where you close your eyes and completely “let go” of absolutely everything and an unbelievable sense of calm or the most extreme version of mindfulness fills the space.
I believe there are some real lessons in all of this. On the one hand our popularised frames of reference serve us well and ultimately protect us, but on the other hand, they can sabotage us and can have a devastating impact not only on ourselves but on those around us. Only when we take a multidimensional approach to both thinking (rationalising) and feeling (experiencing) the true nature of being in control or lack thereof, can we begin to alter our perceptions or flip these ideas on their head and in some instances create more meaningful change. We can also draw parallels with business and leadership, where the importance to let go or surrender can bring forward the ideas of others and let mighty egos sit on the bench in reserve. The other point I want to make is that this idea of knowing how to “surrender” at the right time and in the right context is like flicking a switch or reading some self-help books and articles is an utter nonsense. Just like anything in life, it takes practice and requires hard work and a steadfast commitment to continuing self-development. This one I am afraid is a long-haul journey and I for one am still struggling to climb the mountain with no sign of the summit in sight just yet.