Self-reliance: reliance on one’s own efforts and abilities – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
In 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson published his famous essay, Self-Reliance.
Its basic premise is that each man has been placed here to fill a special slot that no one else can fill. It is his job to figure out what that is. Not even mentioning the vast tide of opposition he has to fight from peers, family, and society when he attempts to do so.
This fact makes it one of the most important pieces of writing ever made in history.
It’s one that you should familiarize yourself with and one that runs in line with a lot of the values I discuss on this site.
In this article, I’m going to break down key quotes from Emerson’s important text and help you apply the super-critical aspect of self-reliance to your own life.
“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within more than the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”
Most people have been taught from an early age not to trust themselves.
We have been suggested to by parents, authorities, etc… that they are “in the right” and there’s only one way to get to achieve success.
We have been trained to seek validation from those we view as higher up on the social hierarchy. This manifests in the form of validation-seeking, especially on social media.
We have an idea for something and we don’t pursue it because we don’t have faith in ourselves. We put ourselves down at every turn.
Then, when someone does exactly what we wanted to do, we admire them and look to them as gods when we had the same power ourselves from the beginning.
This makes no sense.
It’s a shame because most people are more powerful than they can even realize. If we could push ourselves to our max capability and sharpen our skills, we would become unstoppable.
Self-Reliance “hack”: Start stretching yourself. Start telling yourself great things about yourself. Start volunteering for extra challenges at work. Start talking to yourself positively. You will experience success. That success will build onto another success.
Soon, you’ll start to trust yourself and your inclinations – then you’ll have more self-confidence to tackle greater challenges. Nothing will intimidate you.
“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
Validation from outside sources is easy to find in today’s world.
But it ultimately means nothing. You’re the one who has to die when it’s time for you to die, so you’ll have to live your life the way you want to.
The people you try to impress…they don’t pay your bills. They don’t go to work for you. They won’t help you advance in your life.
Why are you so concerned with how they view you?
Self-Reliance “hack”: Realize that people don’t think about you most of the time. They’re too busy worrying about how they’re going to put food on the table and keep the lights from going off.
Think about this: imagine if you die tomorrow, who would show up at your funeral? Definitely not those people you’re posing on Instagram for.
Your opinion is the only one that matters. As long as you don’t hurt people, you’re in the clear to live the life that you want to live.
“The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word because the eyes of others have no data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loth to disappoint them.”
It keeps us locked into predictable grooves.
This can be a good thing, when it comes to a good habit like brushing our teeth. But a lot of times, it often is not.
Habit starts to characterize us, for better or for worse. If you’re known as a guy that people can count on, people will automatically seek you out. If you’re known as being unreliable, most people will want nothing to do with you.
It creates a cycle that can predict your next moves with astounding accuracy.
But what if you want to change?
What if you want to stop being known as the drunkard in your friendship circle? Well, it’s gonna be hard because you have two things working against you: neural pathways and social pressure.
Internally, your mind creates neural pathways to keep easily accessible information on hand. Your brain doesn’t want to use up any more energy than it has to in order to complete a certain task.
That means in order to start a new habit, you’re going to have to resist. It takes some willpower.
Change is difficult. Comfort is not. When everything stays nice and chill, no effort will have to be exerted. No one’s mirror is being broken.
No one’s having to ask themselves hard questions. But when you start to change direction, that’s when trouble starts.
In life, you’re gonna have to break a few eggs to make omelettes.
Self-Reliance “hack”: It takes a minimum of 21 days to keep a habit. After 66 days, it is accepted by the subconscious mind as a new behavior.
Start doing one super small thing for a minimum of 21-66 days. Soon, it will become automatic. Some things are easier to be consistent in than others, but it requires consistency all the same.
Once you blow that away, tackle the next. Then the next. Then the next. Very soon, you will have started a new list of habits and you won’t recognize your new self.
“Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,” ‘I am’ but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are: they exist with God to-day.”
Everyone who is alive on this planet has worth.
By virtue of being a human being, you have value. Advertising may make it seem as if you have no value, social media may make it seem as if you have no value, but you do.
And I’m not saying that as some little feel good platitude… but I’m saying it because it’s true. We all have gifts and talents that we can give to the world.
But some do not make use of these talents. Some compare themselves to that guy over there and that guy over here because they feel that they are not good enough. I used to fall into this crap myself.
There has never been another person alive before you with your EXACT DNA. There will never be another person after you with your exact DNA. Therefore, you are unique. You have value.
There’s a quote that says “Don’t compare your behind the scenes to other people’s highlight reel”.
I don’t know where that’s from but it’s quite accurate. The appearance people show in public is often not as pristine as their private life.
So don’t compare yourselves to other people.
Self-Reliance “hack”: Think about what you can give back to the world that no one else can. Think about your unique skills, abilities, and methods.
There’s a place for you somewhere, you just need to find it. What can you do that’s hard to replicate?
If you can’t answer that question, start getting into some new hobbies. If you pick some up faster than others and remain great at them, you’ve found your answer!
“If young men miscarry in their first enterprises they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened and complaining the rest of his life.”
You will fail at many things many times in your life.
But don’t be discouraged. You keep trying things until they work out. Some people will be quick to think that you’re good for nothing if you crash and burn. But like the phoenix, you can rise.
The good thing about failing over and over again is that you start to toughen up. You start to ascend the ranks towards antifragility itself.
Failing gives you incredible self-reliance to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and keep going.
People who don’t fail end up being very fragile individuals. When they are hit by adversity, they will crumple.
Failure – I’d definitely recommend it.
Your ego may be bruised, but often your ego will get in your way. I’ve failed at many things in my short life. I’ve gotten absolutely destroyed by people and events, but they are good reference experiences and I learned some pretty cool stuff.
What this means for society and men
“Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”
As a man, this hit me hard on a deep level.
Growing into a man of self-reliance is very difficult. It is a constant upward battle. In the quote before, Emerson stated that society is in conspiracy against manhood.
Society wants you to feel helpless in order to keep buying more stuff and fueling the cycle.
You need that next cool shirt. Those next cool shoes. You need to keep buying to keep the wheels of consumerism churning.
You may think I’m joking but let me ask you this: if everyone was content in themselves and didn’t need to buy pointless crap to feel happy, do you think that companies who do nothing to further humanity would still exist?
I even hate the term “nonconformity” because by vowing to be nonconformist, you are still conforming to something. I think that everyone needs to conform to something (because we are social creatures as humans), but it shouldn’t be out of “I’ll do it because everyone is doing it.
How to cultivate self-reliance
To be a self-reliant individual, you need the right mindset. You need to discipline yourself to act on your own accord and allow yourself to be someone who doesn’t need to ask for help at every turn. Here’s some starting points to being a self-reliant individual.
Create independent thought – Don’t just buy something because everyone is is buying it. Think on your fucking own. If a girl or guy insults you, you shouldn’t want to kill yourself.
You should be able to take it with a grain of salt, brush it off, and think of it as just a bunch of empty words.
Even this blog, if you don’t agree with anything on it, that’s fine. Just think for yourself. I don’t expect you to believe everything I say.
Create a history of successes – Ok. Thought experiment time. Take two guys:
Imagine someone who’s parents still cooks them food, does their laundry, gives them money, gives them pep talks every single day, etc. Do you think that person will be able to survive when they do step foot in the real world? I doubt it.
Then on the other hand, you have a guy who was out of his parent’s house at 18, put himself through college, had to grind and hustle his way for everything he had. I’d be willing to be this guy is self-reliant. Hell, he might even be antifragile.
When you start to rely on yourself financially, emotionally, and in other areas, what happens is you start to gain momentum towards self-esteem. You start to feel really good about yourself and your ability to produce results in different areas. You start to gain a humble confidence versus a delusional arrogance.
On a long enough timespan, where will these guys be – emotionally speaking?
Manage your emotions – As I said in the first paragraph, you shouldn’t want to die because someone gave you a verbal thumbs down. You should be able to generate productive emotions from yourself.
You don’t necessarily have to be happy all the time but start to shift your view from gaining pleasure on external things and then start to cultivate internal happiness.
You should take a “water off a duck’s back” approach to life when people hurl insults your way.
Craft financial independence – Financial independence is a key facet of self-reliance in modern society. It is very similiar to antifragility.
When I think of antifragility in the financial realm, I think about something like purposeful bankruptcy to protect one’s assets. 50 Cent’s bankruptcy comes to mind. Even if he does become “broke” it won’t matter because he knows how to regain all his money and then some.
Compare that to a person who won the lottery and doesn’t know how to make money or manage it. This person will probably be in a worse position than what they started with.
Think of someone who is very well-off. You notice they have a certain “freedom” and bravado about them? Because they know two things:
- If they lost everything, they could rebuild it all back
- They are not reliant on other people to put food on their table
The person who has self-reliance with his finances does not depend on help when they’re in dire straits. They have enough in the “emergency fund” or other assets to not have to do so.
Start saving 10% of your income right off the top. Start with paying off high interest debt. Stop buying useless things. Think long term.
Cut yourself off from external validation – This is VERY hard to do, but it is worth it. As humans, we all need a degree of external validation/feedback. But people abuse it and start to use it as a way to self-sustain good and/or positive emotions.
Seeing how many likes your post got on Instagram/Facebook/whatever. More likes, more happiness. Less likes, less happiness. Stop seeing yourself as dependent on getting approval from others. When you rely too much on external validation, you give away your power.
I know this is a little tough, but stop looking for approval on social media. Stop looking to see how many likes you got on a picture. All of this shit is transitory.
These are just a few ways that I thought of on how to cultivate self-reliance. You may have some that work better.
If you’re not used to relying on yourself, I’ll say this: it takes time. However, once you start to be self-reliant, what does it mean?
- You will be at the cause, not the effect
- You will become massively more productive
- You will be able to gain massive clarity on what to do and where to go in life
- You will be able to find a niche for yourself to thrive
- You will have genuine interactions with others
- On a long enough time-span, you will become a massive success
This is all great, right? It is.
Once you stop getting mired down in what Steve Jobs called “other people’s dogma”, once you find a system that works for you, once you start to go it alone, you will see your life change in profound ways.
So start today. Find one area in which you can become more self-reliant. Make a plan towards it. Start small.
Once you do that, you’ll see that it’s a better and vastly more productive way to live.