Core Values Redux: Autonomy

This post is part of an ongoing challenge to go through James Clear’s list of Core Values and take a week to reflect on each one.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Autonomy is the ability to do what you want, when you want. That it is freedom from bosses and shackles and others dictating your schedule. However, as I look further, I realize that you can never be fully autonomous; there are always external influences on what you need to do.

If you run your own company, you may not have a direct supervisor, but there are always obligations from others that need to be met whether you want them or not. Rent to pay, deadlines to meet, etc. But I think the general direction of your vision, as well as perhaps your day-to-day schedule, is the Autonomy part that is most attractive.

In looking into the etymology, autonomy come from the Greek: ‘autos’ meaning ‘self’ and ‘nomos’ meaning ‘custom, law’, forming the Greek word ‘autonomia’ meaning ‘independence’. Modern definitions include: ‘the quality or state of being self-governing’, ‘self-directing freedom and especially moral independence’, and ‘a self-governing state’. Thus it conveys a sense of independence on scales ranging from the individual to the nation state. But specific emphasis seems to be on governance. Whether a country or a person, Autonomy is not just the freedom from subjugation by other entities, but it requires a set of organized principles, laws, etc that bring order. If one is ‘free’ but not organized, is one still autonomous?

I have always worked in jobs that have a fairly high level of Autonomy. Well, different flavors of the same job. And while in my postdoc here I have had even more flexibility than before, allowing me to pursue my burgeoning interest in fungi, I have never really had a ‘9-5 schedule’. I need to come to work and produce results, but the way I go about that has always had wiggle room. And I have certainly enjoyed the benefits of that. However, there is something to be said for externally imposed structure. The accountability that forces you to get out of bed in the morning when you are feeling lazy. While I enjoy having a certain level of autonomy, one thing that makes me hesitate from, say, being a full start-up entrepreneur, is needing to rely fully upon my own Autonomy without at least some external structure built in.

At present, I am au chômage and thus have an even higher degree of Autonomy than before. But in order to prevent myself from stalling, it might be wise to heed to organizational part of the word’s etymology in order to keep moving forward.

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