“Fortune helps them that help themselves.” -English proverb
~The Simple Sophisticate podcast, episode #113
As the owner of a curious mind, there is nothing I enjoy more than conversations with other individuals about ideas, concepts and the civilized banter that from time to time manifests about how or why certain things occur or come to be. And so recently when the topic of luck was brought up amongst friends, I listened intently. Questions began bouncing around the table we were all seated both verbally and mentally: “Anyone who has any amount of success in their life cannot underestimate the amount of luck that helped them attain their goal, no?” and “Why is it that the unlucky blame outside forces and the contemplative ‘lucky’ praise outside sources as well? Isn’t the former habit of blame and the latter habit of humility a signifier of why these two groups are distinctly different in the lives they lead?” and “Isn’t luck the amalgamation of preparation meeting opportunity?”
But I couldn’t help returning to the above English proverb.
Yes, to whom we are born and into what circumstances is entirely luck or misfortune, but just as Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born into quite undesirable conditions, it was her determination, as she became Coco Chanel, and self-reliance that brought the life that sells books, perfume, clothing and the French lifestyle of simplicity and style to fruition.
Nearly a century before Chanel opened her first clothing boutique in Deauville, France, and began selling what has remained a classic into the 21st century, the marinière (the sailor blouse), American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote his 1841 essay “Self-Reliance“. And it was the timing of the aforementioned conversation and listening to a episode of the Inspirational Living podcast, that I was reminded of how much strength, ability and thereby control we have over the direction of our lives.
Self-reliance is rather self-explanatory, but to reiterate it is reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others. Now, Emerson is not suggesting, although is protege Henry David Thoreau did take this idea a step-further when he made his home in the woods near Walden Pond for two years, that we seclude ourselves from the world. Instead, it is to find the strength to rely upon ourselves while existing and participating in the world in which we reside. “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.” This is most certainly difficult, but the rewards for every individual who finds the courage and strength to be self-reliant are magnificent. And that is what we’re going to talk about today.
1.Discover the unique gifts that want to be realized
“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.”
As a child, we are not hesitant to walk toward what piques our interest. We are not yet swayed by what society applauds or disapproves of. But as we grow up and look to thrive in the world in which we exist, our inner voice becomes harder and harder to hear. However, that voice, your calling, your passions, these are exactly what you must trust, listen to and heed. Because believe it or not, no one else will ever offer the world what you can give it, and should you not tap into this ability, the world will be denied your uniqueness, never to be seen again.
“The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”
2. Become truly fulfilled and content
” . . . that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.”
True contentment will not be felt until you put forth the effort, put forth the time and persevere to understand who you are and what you can create and share with the world. Yes, it is easy to settle with what is given to us or what is just enough to get by, but you will not know the satisfaction of the fulfillment you could attain should you put forth the effort and ability that is within you.
3. Become empowered
“He who knows that power is inborn, that he is weak because he has looked for good out of him and elsewhere, and so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on his thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands his limbs, works miracles; just as a man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man who stands on his head.”
The power to live well, to be truly content, resides entirely within you. The treasure hunt that is often pursued outside of ourselves assuming that we are lacking is actually a hunt we must pursue within ourselves. And the good news is we will not be going on a false pursuit. The treasure is waiting to be discovered, and in its proper time with the necessary effort, it will be revealed. Be patient, but persevere until you find it.
4. Reach your full potential
“A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace.”
The only thing each of us can do each and every day is our best. And it is only us that can know if we have or haven’t accomplished this feat. So long as you are doing your best with each day your are given, you will go to bed each night with contentment and inch that much closer to your full potential.
5. A refusal to conform mindlessly
“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members . . . The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. [Society] loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.”
Emerson reminds us that society wants us to conform because it is comforting. Why? Because there are no unknowns, nothing that will occur outside of its expectation. Change, as we know, can be scary, but as we also know, it is inevitable. Where does change come from? Look back to last year, look back 10 years, look back to centuries in the past. It comes from someone, then many someones trying something new, exploring, asking questions and tapping into their full potential. It comes from individuals relying on themselves and not conforming.
6. Discover an inner peace, thereby, not needing outside approval
“My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady.”
Should the authentic life path that you pursue bring with it fame and fortune, such an outcome is merely a byproduct. Because when you are listening to yourself, letting your unique talents soar, you aren’t looking to see if others applaud. Most likely, they won’t for a long time, if ever. But if they do, you won’t care, so long as you are truly pursuing your authentic path. And when you let go of what others think, you set yourself free.
7. A realization that disapproval of others is a reflection of their own unhappiness and has nothing to do with you
“For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And there- fore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The by-standers look askance on him in the public street or in the friend’s parlour. If this aver- sation had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs.”
As I mentioned above, most often, when we charter a course that is not similar to the norm, there will be much disapproval; but a self-reliant person understands that their disapproval is actually not a reflection on what the individual is doing, but rather an unrecognized awareness that they are not truly satisfied or content, or at the very least, aren’t invested as they are simply following external orders. This understanding makes it easy to keep striving down your unique path.
8. Develop strength
“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.”
As I mentioned at the top of the post, Emerson is not suggesting we shut ourselves away from the world. After all, the world needs us for progress, for inspiration, for improvement. However, it is difficult to find the solitude amongst a society that relentlessly wants us to conform. The good news is, this difficulty becomes less intense as we continue to practice our self-reliance in the everyday. And before we know it, we have developed such a strength that it is an inspiration to others.
9. Cultivate a strong character
“Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future.”
Why we do anything should be in pursuit of the truth: the truth that resides within us, the truth of why society does what it does, etc. And while our actions may not make sense to others at the time, if we are true to what we are pursuing and revealing, the pieces all come together to reveal our purpose and our strength of character to remain true to who we are.
10. Happier relationships
“I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier . . . I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.”
To live in truth with one another is to draw towards us people who give each other strength. Even if the strength is to move on as we realize we are not compatible. Truth is attractive and ultimately will lead us to other people who are in alignment with the gifts we can offer the world. Instead of clinging to a relationship that is not working, let go; for it is in letting go and allowing each individual to discover their truth that happier relationships can bloom.
11. The struggles will result in more knowledge, more strength and more contentment
“[When we conform] . . . We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born.”
When we pursue a life of self-reliance we will run up against obstacles. These obstacles are not to stop us, but to strengthen us. And ultimately, just like an Olympian who has been training for years, met defeat along the way, but keeps learning and improving, we are stronger as we step to the other side of the obstacle. We are more contentment because we know how to successfully deal with any obstacle that presents itself. And that, that brings a tremendous peace of mind.
12. It is in being courageous that your destiny can be lived
“. . . the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries, and customs out of the window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him, — and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history.”
When we question the societal structures that have been in place that don’t sit well with our understanding of the world, we show courage. After all, it is easy to be a sheep and follow. It is safe, it is calm, it is predictable. But it is in the questioning, it is in the display of courage that history is made, societies improve and generations that have yet to be born will recall the spearhead of the change.
13. Elimination of regret
“Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will. Regret calamities, if you can thereby help the sufferer; if not, attend your own work, and already the evil begins to be repaired.”
When we choose to be self-reliant we find contentment, and contentment doesn’t acknowledge regrets. Every decision was their own, every lesson attempted to be learned and eventually learned as it is repeated until we absorb it. However, if we let other people make the decisions for us, if we follow instead of lead our own lives, then we have regret. Then we have discontent.
14. Loving your unique self is a magnet for more love
“The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. Welcome evermore to gods and men is the self-helping man. For him all doors are flung wide: him all tongues greet, all honors crown, all eyes follow with desire. Our love goes out to him and embraces him, because he did not need it.”
Choosing to love who we are and who we are discovering we can be is a self-love that lifts us each up. It is not the extreme of arrogance, but rather an appreciation for what we have been given and a promise not to squander the gifts. This realization, this way of living to rely on ourselves and make the most of our gifts, is intoxicating to the outside world. However, we seek this path not for the outside response. The outside response is merely a bonus.
15. Step into your greatness
“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare?”
For much of my life, I lamented that I did not have a role model that lived entirely the life I dreamed I could achieve. Yes, I had many people who embodied aspects of the life I dreamed of, but not the entire existence. However, I have since learned my premature (okay, immature) mourning was unnecessary because as Emerson reminds above, there will never be someone entirely like any one of us. We must look within, listen to the quiet voice and trust that the universe knows more than we will ever be able to understand until we step into our greatness and fulfill our true potential.
16. More “luck” occurs in your life
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”
To circle back to the initial anecdote regarding luck and success. Choosing to be self-reliant is to choose a courageous path in life. It will be hard work, it will involve many set-backs and frustrations. It will involve sleepless nights doubting and questioning your decision to be self-reliant because sometimes it will be lonely. But the knowledge you need to hold close in these times of uncertainty is that you are not alone; the universe is guiding you and is thankful that you are brave enough to listen.
So long as you continue to learn the lessons from the set-backs, not be deterred by frustrations and put forth the effort, more and more luck will seemingly drop into your lap. Continue to help yourself and good fortune will continue to come your way.
Choosing to be self-reliant in a world that is ever “social” with the availability of the internet may at first seem impossible, but in many ways it is of benefit, as we can explore, learn and travel deeper into understanding who we are and challenge the conventional way of thinking if it does not sit well with us. The key is to quiet yourself from time to time. Step away from the noise, step away from the technology that bombards our senses and step away from the many voices of others in an effort to discern what your inner voice is saying. If we do this regularly, if we heed it, if we trust it, little by little, our lives begin to blossom into something that we most likely didn’t predict when asked in school “What do you want to be when you grow up?” However, I have no doubt what-so-ever that your life will be a joy to experience.
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~Why Not . . . Become Self-Actualized? (podcast)
~13 Ways to Cultivate True Wealth (podcast)
~The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealed by Julie Barlow & Jean-Benoît Nadeau