I find self reliance to be a difficult topic to navigate. I’ve been told in the past that I don't ask for help nearly as much as I should. I have also had phases in my life in which I have relied heavily on others. A sentiment that seems to be universal. I think we all struggle to strike the balance of being a burden and needing assistance. There are so many factors and forms of reliance. Financial, emotional, functional. As someone who struggles with sleep problems, half the time I need to be awake for an important event my best friend calls me, acting as a personal alarm clock -for which I am eternally grateful and probably wouldn’t have graduated university without-. Yet I have also practised self reliance through taking only advice from myself in the form of borderline delusional dialogues I concoct, using unsuspecting characters from my life as stand-ins.
I am a big believer in having made up conversations. If you know someone well enough you can insert their opinions into a discussion via your imagination. A “What Would X-person Do?” of sorts. I ask for advice from people I no longer had in my life but looked up to or trusted. Whether this was a parental figure, a previous lover, or an old friend. But I wouldn't actually talk to them, not in the traditional sense. I would conjure up a conversation from my memories: One that never existed.
In 2018, when I was 19 and felt particularly lost [a sentiment I have come to be particularly familiar with over the years] in my search for direction I read “the Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. A book regurgitated heavily by pop-culture, yes. Yet one that carries a digestible and widely relatable allegory on finding meaning in one’s life. In squiggly writing jotted down on a particularly turbulent plane ride, the back of my copy reads: “I sit with Ted, legs over legs” and goes on to describe a conversation that never happened -in the real world-. “I remember that I’ve already had this conversation. But never spoke to him about this at the same time. He is just the character my daydream, this fabricated memory, is implanting into the advice I’m already going to give myself.” Because as much as I wanted to get my answers from someone else, the hardest yet most liberating pill to swallow was that building a dialogue with someone whose opinion I valued was in essence, an act of self reliance. “And maybe that's what talking to yourself is. Because the only person in the room to listen to you, is you. And she will. And slowly she will figure it out and help you through it.” the page concludes.
It was John Donne who said “No man is an island”. We are all a piece of a continent, “a part of the main”. The way I see it, there is strength in being an island. But you can’t learn how to be a healthy island until you learn how to rely on others. Be an island with many docks for boats to visit. Welcome many species of birds and fish who migrate and lay their eggs on your shores so you can evolve your own ecosystem… Before this analogy gets even further out of hand, what I mean to say is: self sustenance can only go so far. Reach out in the times you are lost, and you may find a flock of birds on someone else’s island to guide the way.
Self reliance can be liberating, but lonely. Like the process of falling out of love, you go from sharing a beautiful thing but being vulnerable for entrusting your heart to another. To having sole possession of your heart and being the only one who dictates what happens to it… but having sole possession of your heart and being the only one who dictates what happens to it. A friend likened it to the jumper that you lend, it comes back maybe stretched and smelling slightly different. Maybe it has a few stains. But now, it's all yours. You no longer have the warmth of shared possession but the independence of sole ownership.
I had a rather confronting conversation the other day. One I had anticipated and preempted by writing it down in the form of a hypothetical dialogue. Like a script from a movie. Three weeks later, when the conversation actually materialised, I was prepared. I had my witty one liners locked, loaded, and ready to go. Not only did I manage to mask the true extent of my emotions from their fateful recipient but more so from myself. So a few days later when my actual human emotions managed to scamper their way to the surface, having been buried under my robotic, clinical, monotonous defence mechanisms of over intellectualisation, I needed not to be an island. I happened to have a friend visiting that weekend, a proper ride or die, declare thoughts only to realise you had them in the first place, kind of friend. Had it not been for her presence, I would have continued to store my feelings in a black box, allowing them to fester and become malignant over time.
While I would love to believe my methods of self reliance can sustain me 100% of the time. This is far from the truth. They provide a scaffolding on which I can rely. The community, however, these ride or dies, the people who will listen and provide support are how we get through the rough patches. What's that analogy with one twig as opposed to ten? One of them bends easier than the other. The truth is, these imagined conversations would not exist without the existence of community. The advice you think you are giving yourself is the echo of someone’s influence on your life. Without these perspectives from which we grow, we would remain narrow and two dimensional. Perhaps the terrifying ordeal of being known, or the daunting and bothersome afflictions of allowing new and unpredictable variables into one's life may dissuade us of external support. But it is these unpredictable and uncontrollable variables that hit us with the curve balls that grow us as people. Whether they be confronting conversations you predict but fail to feel until days later; a bit of advice that spins you on a loop; or someone pointing out a defence mechanism you didn't know you had, those external perspectives are invaluable.
Remember, we are all parts of the same main, stars in the same sky, planets in the same galaxy. Whatever metaphor you may wish to adopt, solitude and self reliance are merely fallbacks. Your acts of self reliance should not be mistaken for hubris, pride, or an incapacity to reach out, but a foundation to build upon. They are the spine for the body for which community is the flesh.
No Man Is an Island by John Donne
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.