Many years ago, as a radical youth, I subscribed to The Mother Earth News. While I never was very good at gardening or at getting “back to the land”, I enjoyed learning about it. In fact, I think I enjoyed fantasizing about it. And, like most fantasies, the dreaming was much more enjoyable than the doing.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned from it was the difference between being independent and being self-reliant.
At the time, I thought that Independence was The Best Thing. Independence lets you do what you want. It puts you in control of your destiny. It allows you to Be Yourself. It gives you control.
(By the way, every one of us wants to control our own destiny. We want our freedom and our independence. It is part of how we are wired. Even people who don’t know how to take care of themselves, still want their independence and control of their lives.)
But, over time, I learned that independence also means Going It Alone. It means having to do EVERYTHING yourself… even the things you aren’t good at or don’t want to do. It makes a lot of extra work for yourself and results in a very precarious existence.
The opposite of independence, of course, is dependence. All of us have experienced years of that as children. Most of us don’t like the feeling of depending on anther person… no matter how trivial the request or need. I suspect that is partly why we are so insistent on having independence as we grow up.
Sure, being dependent on others has its good side. We don’t have to think, we have stuff given to us, it meshes with our lazy side. Oddly enough, we still want independence even though it means more effort and discomfort… probably because we have the built-in wiring.
If only there were a way we could have our cake and eat it too… a way we could be independent when we wanted and still not have to do everything ourselves… especially the things that we aren’t good at… and never will be good at.
Well, it turns out that there is a third way… Self-Reliance. Self-reliance allows you to be both independent and connected at the same time. It allows you to “outsource” the tasks you aren’t good at to those who are… and still retain responsibility and control.
Let me give an example from business. Say I want to get more customers (or clients… depending on the business you are in). I can ask business associates to refer customers to me… but I don’t simply sit around waiting for the clients to come in through their referrals… I also get out and work to find customers on my own.
The same happens if you are seeking a job. You tell everyone you are looking and what, specifically, you are looking for. But you don’t sit back and wait for them to find you something. You get out and do your own search… and make it happen. Your job may come from either source, but, either way, you aren’t dependent on one or the other to happen.
Another example: I may outsource the manufacturing of a product or a part… but I don’t blindly expect that it will come back in time, to specification, of the quality I expect, and at the price I agreed. I track the progress, I sample the part and check on the quality, I verify the invoice(s), and maintain a level of control.
In other words, I don’t rely on someone else, I rely on myself (“self” “reliant”). Please notice the difference between doing it yourself (independence) and relying on yourself.
Self-reliance is the practical, day-to-day way to maintain control while not having to do it all yourself.
And, in the end, that is also what The Mother Earth News was encouraging, too. Whether you live in the country, in the city, or in the suburbs, take responsibility for your life and the things in it. When you don’t like what’s happening in your life, don’t look to others to fix it, but start taking action that will change things and move it closer to what you are wanting. But do it in a community, not by yourself… but that’s a post for another day.
What do you think? Are you independent, dependent, or self-reliant? Use the comments and share your story with us.