The Myth of Self Reliance

Self reliance is a myth. Humans are social creatures that need interaction for emotional well-being and sustenance. The concept of self reliance, however, implies that we can make it alone.
True self reliance would involve a complete withdrawal from society, a Thoreau-like retreat to Walden Pond or a John-the-Baptist-like wandering in the desert. However, even there the fish of the lake or the locus of the wilderness provided what they could not provide for themselves.
Spending a dollar admits that I need what someone else has. Working to earn a dollar admits reliance on either an employer or on customers.
Since pure self reliance is impossible, we must all be dependent. However, there is good dependence and bad dependence. Learning about the good and shutting out the bad is the way forward.
Bad dependence is reliance on others. Good dependence is reliance on others–and yourself. In the second, the difference is learning to count on, trust, and rely on those around me. This is difficult, since it’s easy to mistrust people. However, this skill is critical to forming well balanced relationships with the people you know and encounter.
Driving on the highway, I need to trust that the car I’m passing won’t suddenly swerve into my lane and run me off the road. I rely on the driver’s competence. However, in this situation I also rely on my own driving skills and knowledge to not pass on the left and to avoid cars that are weaving in and out of their lanes.
I work in sales. I rely on my employer to pay me each period, but I also rely on myself to perform. My employer also relies on me to perform. The action it takes to secure my performance is to pay me each period. There we have an example of a well balanced mutually reliant relationship.

A pure reliance, on other hand, is out of balance and even harmful to the individual. Reliance on a person or entity without that entity relying on you is dependence. It plants and nurtures an entitlement mentality. The feeling that you deserve something without earning is a direct result of this one way reliance.
This is why welfare is so damaging to individuals. They receive benefits from the government that they are trained to rely on. The government does not receive any reciprocated benefit. This one way relationship of giving is not generosity, and it does not promote a society built on balanced and mutually reliant social relationships.
When the cycle becomes one of take take take instead of give take give take, the relationship shifts from that of two people to that of a house pet. I’m not calling welfare recipients animals. Many people truly need assistance to survive. However, when dependence replaces mutual self reliance, it diminishes a distinctly human.
I’m learning the beauty of mutual self reliance. It reveals the deeper value the people in my life have, and shows me my own intrinsic value which I provide through our relationship.

Photo by Nicholas T

‘Better’ is between where you are now and perfect

It’s easy to get down on yourself when you’re not perfect. Being less than perfect admits a shortcoming, a failure. It’s humbling.

A common cliché used to make someone feel better after a failure is to remind them that no one is perfect. However, this condolence provides little or no consolation. That’s probably because it doesn’t take a perfect person to avoid the particular screw up that’s getting you down. It only takes a better person.

It is accepted that perfection is impossible, and it is. That being the case, the proposition also needs to be acceptable. However, it can be so difficult to accept not being perfect, that we sometimes forget perfect’s younger sibling: ‘better’.

It’s okay to not be perfect. However, this cannot be cause for complacency. The premise that nobody is perfect does not justify not trying. ‘Better’ is a great alternative to perfect because it’s situated directly between where you are now and where you’d like to be.

Also, each time you take a step to be better, you’re that much closer to perfect, and there’s another ‘better’ in close proximity for you to move towards.

Small steps in the right direction are acceptable. They are not preferable to lasting radical overnight changes, but they’re a good start. Besides, for most, they are far more realistic.

Some people are are able to make drastic changes overnight, or even over the course of a year. Here I use the word ‘some’ to describe a very small minority of very special and talented or very weird and crazy individuals.

For the rest of us, the walk towards perfection will be a long one. It will take a superhuman perseverance. This will mean committing to a daily goal with clear action items to become a better person, to change bad habits, to start good ones, to develop the way you think about things, and to inspire those around you by your actions.

And if perseverance, commitment, desire, endurance, and patience are not traits that you either possess or can develop, then it will be better to look for some quick overnight fixes. Unless you’re part of that ‘some’, they won’t work, but even a quick fix is better than no fix.

Can a husband and father be a radical lifestyle designer?

Consciously or not, I’ve found myself drawn to a number of lifestyle design blogs over the past few weeks. They’re filled with stories about individuals actively pursuing unconventional ways of thinking and living.

Part of this desire may stem from feeling that my life is becoming to ordinary, too formulaic. I want something drastic, something radical to break up the mundane. There shouldn’t be anything ordinary about life.
However, if I’m going to jump on this lifestyle design bandwagon, I’m going to have to come at it from a very different angle. First, I have a family who I am very much in love with and committed to, so I am , to a small degree, limited in the radical lifestyle choices I can make. My lifestyle affects others, and I must always keep them in mind.

Spending time with my baby and being a good husband are the most important things to me. This involves time and support that I must provide.

Also, I work full time in a conventional setting. I’m not as adventurous as I’d like to be and do not have a strong enough desire to be an entrepreneur to strike out on my own. Actually, I still consider myself an entrepreneur, but I only have one client: the company I work with.

Despite all these factors that seem to point to the conventional life, I think I’ll still be able to participate in extreme lifestyle design during bit of time I have left over. And that may be what makes this journey and set of experiments unique.

Can I be an unconventional thinker and passionately pursue my ideal day and life while still fulfilling my duty in what is most important in my life: loving my wife and baby?

This is a difficult question to ask. As a husband and father, there are sacrifices I must make to care well for my family. However, I have ‘me’ time in the cracks, and I don’t think that I am, right now, the best possible version of my self. And this is because I am not making full use of the cracks.

So, my goal and mission will be to use that extra time to become the best possible version of myself. I know that writing this, and the fact the my wife reads it, will mean that I’ll have at least one person to hold me accountable and to be able to witness my progress.

Photo by Ben Zvan

Encouragement available

There seems to be no shortage of encouragement available if you look for it hard enough.

However, words from other can be, at times, in short supply. This can lead to one desperately fishing for encouragement from friends and family, which can cheapen what is caught.

I am fortunate that when I am uncertain of myself or lack the full confidence in what I am doing, there always seems to be well timed words of encouragement from my wife or co-workers, or at least some external signs that I am on the right track.

However, when encouragement is not readily available in the form of words from others, there are plenty of places to find it or create it in yourself as needed.

You can look for encouragement in past accomplishments. The current failure does not negate the good things you’ve accomplished before. Be encouraged by what you know you can do, and what you have done. This is more indicative of what you’ll be able to do in the future than any one setback.

Remember the obstacles you’ve overcome in the past and recognize that you’ll be able to overcome others in the future. What encouraged you to overcome those obstacles? It may be possible to rediscover those past encouragements and apply them to the present.

However, don’t always look back for encouragement. Also think about the ways the current difficulty will help you to learn and grow. People develop through their experience, and the experience of difficulties and hardships can be the most effective teachers. Try to recognize, in the present, how what is happening now will help you grow as a person, and be encouraged by it.

Also, you can look for encouragement in what others have done. There is no shortage of stories of people accomplishing incredible feats. But what do the great people behind those stories and I have in common? We’re all human. We work with the same limitations and potentials.

Be encouraged by what what you know you can do well, and don’t allow things that you’re bad at to get you down. You can find encouragement in your own talents, understanding that even if you’re having difficulty in your current endeavor that you still have the things that you’re good at.

I am a lucky man. Never lacking in my family cheering on all that I do. I also have very supportive co-workers, who are equally invested in my success. This is a great benefit to me. If it’s not something that you have in your life. I highly recommend it.

Find a few people who can light up your day. Invest yourself heavily in those relationships. Reap the rewards, and enjoy them for their own sake. Not much else is important when a few people close to you are able to fulfill you social needs for love.

I am so fortunate to have the support I enjoy both at home and at work. It makes me thankful to know that there are people who are there for me when I need it. I hope that I can be there for them too, to be for them what they are to me.

But I am also thankful that I am able to encourage myself, when I find myself alone.