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What Does Freedom Look Like in 2021?

Helen Chorley, investor and former investment banker, comments

Whenever I’m asked why I became an investor, the answer is always the same. I became an investor because I wanted freedom. Freedom as I saw it then - some 10 years ago, meant mainly three things: self-sufficiency - not ever being reliant on anyone else, side-stepping societal expectations, and most importantly of course being able to choose what I do, when, and with whom. Contrary to popular assumption, it wasn’t because of an undying love of the markets, and it certainly wasn’t because I’m passionate about bricks! Above all, it was about freedom. And until 2020, I thought I had mostly nailed it. If that was what freedom was, I was almost there.

Ha ha. Along with a gamut of other revelations, I believe what 2020 revealed is that what we thought freedom is, or was, is now, it seems, not what it is. Or was. In many cases, it was the reverse. We were just too busy to really notice. Take the freedom to travel, for example. While some of us understandably reported feeling trapped by travel restrictions, many of us found that staying at home shaped our lives positively. For some, it was the missing piece in a decades-long puzzle.

I recently took an inventory of my annual flight schedules in 2019 and 2020, and it was unsettling to compare. Not because of being grounded in 2020, but because in 2019 I had taken an extraordinary number of flights. ‘Freedom’ it seemed, had me knocking around the planet like a Rolling Stones roadie. And just as exhausted as one. In 2019, at the ping of a text I was off on another of my trips, many of which I now see were surplus to the cause they were intended for (see ‘this could have been an email’). It turned out that the freedom to stay put was the tonic many of us were searching for, as were phrases like ‘I’m going to have to think about that and come back to you.’ And then taking three days to think about it. Or anything…but that’s another conversation!

Another ‘new freedom,’ we discovered, in the sense of being a reverse of a ‘false’ freedom, was to be found in the interpretation of what is ‘essential.’ The almost daily debate of what was or wasn’t ‘essential work’ or ‘essential travel’ forced through deeper questions about ‘essential’ projects, commitments, and even partnerships. It seemed we would have to reevaluate each proposed agenda on a case-by-case basis.

It was a brave new world in terms of decision-making too; how were we to evaluate deals and opportunities now, as none of our previous experience could unequivocally apply here? We would have to do the best we could and then consult that most ancient of oracles: the gut. In every way, we were in new territory. We would have to somehow learn to hold ‘freedom’ closer to our heart as we made more and more uncertain decisions.

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