This nice little blog post from Jamie Notter caught my eye the other day – It’s Good To Be Unsettled. In it he talks about working with a senior group on various strategy choices and one of the participans came up afterwards to say that he felt unsettled by the conversaiton. Notter then talks about life’s natural ups and downs and how having too much of the opposite of feeling unsettled is bad for us. We get complacent and stuck.

Over the years I have learned to appreciate feeling unsettled. It can be deeply unpleasant at the time – you feel dislocated, at sea, at risk and often alone. You could argue that as a freelancer life is always unsettled and it is true, compared to the apparent stability of a job, constantly needing to know where your next work is coming from can be challenging. But I wouldn’t go back. I love the opportunity that the odd period of feeling deeply unsettled, and I am in the middle of such a period now, gives me. It is when I think harder and work harder. It is when I get the chance to dig deep and discover things about myself – or remember what matters and make sure I am focussed on that.

I am aware that a lot of the people I work with feel unsettled about what is happening around them. Whether it is the web and the impact of social tools, or the volatility of organisational life, more of us face more turmoil and change than we might like. But this feeling isn’t likely to go away. We are not going to prevent life from forcing change on us. We need to learn ways to cope.

Feeling unsettled can be a good thing. Feeling settled isn’t always good for us. Life is less about having all of one or the other and more about keeping them in balance, making the most of each of them while they are happening, and getting better at managing the transitions.

13 thoughts on “Unsettled

  1. I relate to this a lot Euan. I go through periods of sleepless nights worrying about my sales pipeline, and whether I’m doing the right thing with my business … choosing from what seems like an endless list of possible choices, and agonising over it.

    I had an interesting conversation with @edpercival a while ago. We were at a function, and he asked me how I was. "Worried" I said (I know Ed well, so no need for platitudes). He said "Well – worrying can be useful". That was interesting. We are so often told not to worry, and that it is not a useful emotion, as most of the things we worry about don’t happen (true), and that worry/fear is more relevant for our distant ancestors who did in fact run the risk of expiring quickly if they made the wrong decision. (Sabre tooth Tiger can kill you , client who wants changes to CRM system won’t).

    My conclusion is that sometimes, feeling unsettled can actually be a good way of turbo charging my alertness. It can be a catalyst to really focussing on what matters. Like a lot of emotional responses, I think its good to "own" them, and then stand to one side, and try and see what’s gong on. That can be a way of inspiring action.

    Cheers @markhardman


  2. I relate very strongly to this,I was on PAYE for nearly 30 years before being made redundant and eventually setting up my own business as a contractor. The intervening period of unemployment was the most unsettled I have felt in a long time. Even though I have had a steady contracts for nigh on two years, expiry dates are not things I look forward to. I would have to be doing this for a lot longer than I have before I feel confident that I can make it sustainable as an employment model. However the future is going to be much more like this and I do sometimes wonder at the apparent naivety of friends and colleagues who are permies and my kids and their friends who seem to have an expectation of an employment model that no longer really exists. Perhaps our responsibility is to prepare them for a harsher reality and ensure they don’t fall for the same line we were sold at their age. Chaos is the new equilibrium.


    1. I often have these sort of conversations with my kids. My older daughter was talking about university the other day and weighing up the pros and cons of spending four years getting a ticket to something she might not want.


  3. Spot on!

    I associate ‘unsettled’ with being mentally alert.

    My model for this is the well know phenomenon of being asked for directions, but seemingly only when you somewhere strange. Unlikely to be coincidence this is more likely to be related to body language, in the ‘strange place’ you will be heads up, observant, open and exploring. In your usual habitats you are closed, complacent, heads down with the body language ‘do not disturb’.

    So it is with unsettled – it is a measure of your own preparedness. If you are not unsettled you cannot absorb the discordant and challenging messages that comes from a real discussion on strategy


      1. Except that it should read, "if all around you are keeping their heads while you are losing yours, they probably don’t understand the situation. Alternatively, you may be French Royalty and this may be 1789


  4. A really good observation, Euan. Piaget used the term ‘equilibrium’ to describe the state where our internal models are balanced with our external environment; hence ‘disequilibrium’ describes the times when we are learning. With equilibrium comes confidence – the kind of feeling we like to preserve even if it sometimes means ignoring reality. It is a shame that confidence is so over-rated.


  5. I am new to your site Euan, and I have enjoyed reading your posts. It is anxiety, uncertainty and the feeling of being unsettled that has helped me find the way to what really matters to me and gives me the energy to pay attention to what I need to change. Western society seems to be obsessed with medicating and if possible eradicating any feelings of unsettledeness, and anxiety. We must all be happy ALL the time…..and even shynness is now part of the DSM V. But as Heidegger says – unsettledness is an integral part of being human, alerting us to the possibility of our being, and to the possibility that our being actually matters to us! So feeling unsettled is always helpful, if paid attention to! It is when I ignore such a feeling, that problems emerge…


    1. Hi Chloe

      thanks for visiting and glad you enjoyed the posts. What you say is so true. We are trained to not want to be unhappy – and that if we buy enough stuff we can fend it off!


  6. Nigh unto ‘unsettled’ is the often-present low-grade free-floating fear. I’ve always loved the acronym F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real) although I also recognize that sometimes the evidence CAN be real. That’s when having been unsettled and aware of it becomes very useful.


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