To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
I remember the moment well.
My then boyfriend and I were enjoying one of those lazy weekend afternoons, ambling along in the sunshine with no set agenda (the way you do when you have no children. If only I’d appreciated it more!)
The stalls were set up just besides the river. There were only about three, a few tables of other people’s junk and whatever they had discovered during the garage and attic clear outs. I went over to see what I could find.
The book I picked up was an old, leather-bound book with no dust jacket; the kind whose pages have turned crisp with age. It had a slightly damaged spine and a musty smell but after flicking through and reading a few excerpts I decided to part with my money and take it home.
The book was Emersons Essays.
I’ve still not read this book cover to cover. But this book, my edition published in 1851, is an absolute treasure. It’s filled with gems and if you have the time and patience to wade through some of the more archaic terms, it’s a beautifully-written book with language that draws you in and fills you up. What’s more, despite being over 150 years old, the wisdom within its pages is still relevant today.
Sometimes you end up reading, hearing or experiencing just what you need at that moment and the section of the book which I came upon recently was entitled ‘Self-Reliance’.
Self-reliance: reliance on self, trust in self. If asked: do you trust yourself? I’m sure most people would answer that they do. Yet, when you phrase it: do you back yourself? Or, do you believe in yourself? The answer may be a little more vague.
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”
At its core, self-reliance seems to come down to being true to who we are, to trust and rely on ourselves to do what’s right and what aligns with our beliefs. Most importantly, it seems to hinge on valuing what we have to offer, to follow our own instincts and avoid imitation and conformity.
It seems that when we accomplish that, the journey forward – whatever path we take, whatever decisions we make – will always be a smoother ride.
If we remain true to who we are and know that we can rely on ourselves, to always speak our truth and act authentically, then we should have less to fear because whatever happens, we have our integrity and what we do will always have a deep and solid foundation, rooted in our own values.
Basing ourselves and what we do on imitation or the aspirations of others only leaves us less connected to what we achieve or hope to achieve. It could throw us off course entirely by leading us down a path that doesn’t align with our own desires or ambitions, which seems, if not false, more of a struggle as we try to reconcile our actions with who we truly are.
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.- —
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you are just you, running your business, you need the conviction to be able to say: this is me, this is what I do, this is what I’ve made, this is what I offer and this is what I’m worth.
There is no large company to fall behind, no big corporate face whose ideals, ethics, strategies you can hide behind. There is just you and the courage of your convictions. Just you and the confidence to trust in yourself and keep doing what you do.
The wonderful Jay Shetty relays an anecdote which describes this perfectly.
Have you heard the one about the man, his son and the horse?
They are travelling to a market; the father, son and horse, all walking to the next town. They come to the first stop on their route and one man points and jeers, “You fools, why is the old man not riding the horse when he could be taking the weight off your feet?”
The father and son stop and the older man says, “Perhaps he’s right. I’ll get on and travel the rest of the way on horseback.”
They come to the next town and a passer-by points and says in disgust, “Look at you, selfish old man, riding the horse and letting your young boy walk and tire.”
They stop and agree that perhaps they should swap and the young boy sits upon the horse.
At the next village they walk through, another man stops them, scolding the pair. “You silly people, allowing your youthful boy to ride the horse while the old man walks. You should let your father ride the horse.”
Again the pair stop and this time they both get on the horse and ride the rest of the way into the town. When they arrive a man sees them riding upon the horse and shakes his head. “Look at you fools, both riding that horse, making the poor animal bear your full weight. You should be walking and giving that horse a rest.”
The moral of that story?
You will never please everybody. Everyone always has an opinion and nobody knows your complete backstory, your past, or your journey.
These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. 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. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
I know that when running a small business, the self doubt can creep in. It’s easy to look around and see what others are doing and believe we should be doing the same or similar. “Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage,” Emerson says. The irony being that here I am quoting Emerson to make my point.
The comparison trap can be hard to avoid but should we not be celebrating our uniqueness and the fact we are the only people who can offer what we have? Should we be proudly putting ourselves out there, trusting in ourselves knowing that by doing so we will attract the right kind of people, the right customers and clients who value us and our perspective?
Self reliance: one of the most important qualities you need for working from home
Do you back yourself?