“Self-reliance is the only road to true freedom, and being one’s own person is its ultimate reward.”Patricia Sampson
One of the greatest misconceptions about self reliance is that it is primarily about doing everything for yourself, by yourself.
This cannot be further from the truth, and to those who truly feel like they have to do everything themselves because “no one else does it as well” or “there is no one else who could do it” I am vigorously waving a red flag, quite possibly with control freak written on it. At the very least I would be gently suggesting that these narratives, thoughts, feelings and behaviours, may be an unhealthy coping strategy – an attempt to avoid the uncomfortable feelings of uncertainty that come with asking for help from others or the response to an unfulfilled need – the need to be busily important (ego), elevating our own status and skills through the dismissal of other people’s skills and abilities when compared to our own.
Self reliance can also be confused with the desire to create financial independence – I see this a lot working with women particularly in the start up space who have a need to earn their “own” money and make a contribution to the household. It seems the inability to do so has a very real impact on perceived self-worth and comes from an unfulfilled safety need; so money becomes the symbolic tangible representation of a freedom need. Coming from a place of lack or fear, not from an empowered place of grounded confidence.
As with many coaches in the life and business coaching space, I often find myself helping people clarify their values and priorities. Independence, freedom and self reliance come up frequently in some way, shape or form and when they do I acknowledge the essence and feeling but look beyond these to see whether they truly are values or whether there is actually an unfulfilled need or conditioned belief masquerading as a value.
Many of us have been bought up with the belief that we need to be able to provide for, support and depend on ourselves – the attitude of “the only person you can rely on is yourself” and sometimes as a result self reliance can be confused with self sufficiency. The past, for some, plays a big role in the desire to be independent – there are very few that have completely avoided bad experiences in relationships with friends, family and intimate partners, most people have faced feelings of powerlessness and helplessness that have arisen as a result of dependency on others or a relationship that has been overly co-dependent. If our experience of being dependent on others is “bad” the misguided solution we adopt may be to seek complete independence, shouldering every hardship and walking every path alone as others “cannot” be trusted.
Again this comes from a place of prevention – we avoid being in a position where others have the power to hurt or harm us, as opposed to coming from a place of personal power and inner strength, which are both components of actual self reliance.
So, if self reliance is not:
- Fierce independence to avoid being hurt by another;
- A mask or story we trot out to avoid admitting we have trust or control issues;
- A misnamed belief or need stemming from a place of perceived lack or fear;
- A misguided self/ego protection strategy ……
What is it?
My understanding of true self reliance developed through a particular life experience. I lived for 5 years in Botswana and much of that time was spent in Safari lodges, on a wild, fenceless island in the Okavango Delta, for months on end, with very limited connection with the world beyond our guests, guides and the team of local staff members that had worked most of their lives in the same place.
It was a remote and simple yet a savage environment that required every ounce of inner resourcefulness – it tested my belief in myself, my abilities, my problem solving capabilities, my intuition, my self trust and on occasion my sanity.
It taught me to become an independent thinker and trust my own knowledge and common sense, it showed me that people who have lengthy experience do not necessarily have the answer; I learned quickly that a lot was done because of the way it had always been done not because it was the most logical and effective methodology.
There was also a lot of ego in the air, I think it came with the khaki, and although I had only been in the African Wilds five minutes I learned to trust my own instincts in potentially dangerous situations instead of defaulting to what I had read or what I had been told was the “right” way to deal with ferocious animals!
I really learned to trust my own judgement in dangerous situations with no qualified support to hand and no evacuation plane landing until morning – proper life and death stuff.
The development of my own instincts and intuition played a massive role in becoming confidently self reliant, it put me back in touch with my whole self and a full spectrum of emotions, it taught me to trust my inner wisdom and I learned to see what was actually in front of me instead of seeing only what I expected to see. I also learned to listen in a way that goes far beyond words and assumed meaning, the language barriers helped with this!
It was here that I learned to embrace difference and realised that relationships could be cooperatively cohesive with those involved respecting each other’s individuality whilst trusting that we all had the same greater interest – staying alive, keeping everyone safe and ensuring our guests had the best possible experience so that they came back regularly and told all their friends!
We didn’t need to be the same and we were not dependent on each other, as individuals, our success was reliant on a role or a task being performed – it didn’t matter who did it as long as it was done in a particular time frame to a particular standard! Staff turnover was so high that no individual could be depended on – the show had to go on regardless!
Self Reliance is about truly looking within yourself first and not letting the voices of other’s opinions drown out your own inner knowing of what is true or right for you.
Self Reliance is about living your values and honouring what really matters to you through your actions without looking to others for external validation.
It is about knowing yourself, being yourself, trusting yourself, and guiding yourself from a place of inner strength, driven by the momentum of meaning, leaning into the unknown, safe in the knowledge that you can and will handle whatever happens next.
Self reliance leads to intellectual independence and emotional freedom ….. in a nutshell.