Freedom and Angst

Sailing Rosario Strait

Sailing up Rosario Strait, passing a ferry.

Jean Paul Sarte, the father of existential philosophy, was fond of pointing out that true freedom is experienced as angst. The example he gives is that of standing on the precipice of a cliff. The angst is what you feel, knowing that you have the freedom to take that last step. Freedom is scary. So much so that most people can’t handle it. They’d rather sacrifice freedom for security.

I feel that angst every time I dock. I know my little $10K boat could do $1M in damage pretty quickly. I’ve felt that angst every time I had a close call or weathered a storm, and I feel it every time I go out again. Knowing the risks. Knowing just how fallible I am.

From experience, I’ve learned that the security of a career, a house, or a spouse makes my skin crawl. I’ve tried all three long enough. No more. The pros don’t outweigh the cons.

But I’m not ready to jump off a cliff either. Right now I’ve got a lot of angst in my life. Going overboard a few weeks ago really scared me. Every time I leave port now, I think “Here we go again!.” But I’m alive. I feel alive, because angst and freedom go hand-in-hand.

Sailing with Brother

Sailing down San Juan Channel, with my brother at the tiller, through 40 knot gusts.

I don’t think about what I’m going to have for dinner, or what work I’ll find in the fall, or how my 401(k) is doing. I’m too busy damping down the fear, mindfully sailing the boat. I’m taking in the beauty, but I’m also watching for bad weather, good wind, easy fishing, and a secure moorage. I’m free and I’ll have to accept the consequences for making a poor choice. It’s exhilarating.

Freedom, responsibility, and angst are all interrelated. That was what Sarte was trying to say.


Get some.

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One Response to “Freedom and Angst”
  1. Rich Muller says:

    Well said, Chris! Most of the time we don’t realize that we’re going through life only half-alive.

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