10 Key Lessons on the Art of Being Self-Reliant

10 Key Lessons on the Art of Being Self-Reliant


True self-confidence can only come from the inner conviction that you only ever need yourself to lean on in life. Although that is not a given for anybody, the heroic effort taken to establish this belief as the one you hold above all others inevitably rewards you with a self-confidence that is unbreakable.


This belief is formed by striving every moment of your life to be totally self-reliant.


Think about it, self-confidence needs no external appraisal and validation. It is the internal set of values and self-worth that you have developed within yourself. You either accept that your value judgments guide you in every action you take or you are forever a slave to the approval and disapproval of others.


The choice is between whether you are a self-reliant, independent person or living on the vicarious cliff that is the approval of others. You don’t allow yourself to choose between accepting the approval and ignoring the disapproval.


This self-confident persona, although readily seen and felt on the surface, is anchored deep beneath you by a sense of self-reliance. Self-reliance is the utter refusal to depend on anybody but yourself to provide all the happiness and means of living you ever needed. Self-reliance seeks to create value and share it with others. It is the true self, seeking to express its deepest desires and values by righteous initiative and actions.


Based on the book “Beyond Success and Failure” by Willard and Marguerite Beecher and some other books (listed at the end) that follow the same premise, here are the main points to take away from what self-reliance is and how to acquire it:


10 Key Lessons in the Art of Being Self-Reliant


One – It Is a Natural Desire in All of Us to Be Independent and Self-Reliant


The story of Alexander Selkirk comes to mind when I describe this phenomenon. As the inspiration for the fictional Robinson Crusoe, Selkirk actually was marooned on a remote island and hunted by the Spanish fleet. Left with no other alternative, he learned to be self-reliant to simply survive. He did more than surviving. His time in the wild turned him into a badass by all accounts. When he was finally rescued, people noticed that not only was he stronger and faster physically, but also that he somehow possessed the navigational knowledge it would have taken much longer for the average person to acquire, along with a personal initiative that couldn’t be matched.


In our natural state, every person needs and wants to grow out of the dependent habits that were taught to them when they were children. We have this capability innate within all of us. However, society and culture taught us to stay dependent so that they can exploit us as consumers. This is not a conscious conspiracy. It’s simply the way society is structured to grow, with as many worker bees as possible, no matter the individual cost to each person.


We all have a choice to shun this dependence, though many are oblivious to it. At very rare times, that’s because we have no other choice. But unless you see yourself marooned on an island, you simply need to go on the necessary mental journey required to wean yourself from the everyday dependence and establish that undeniably lucrative independence.


Two – Dependency Is an Emotional Habit, and All Habits Can Change


Dependency is driven so deep into our psyche, to the point that it seems like the natural state of men. However, that’s far from true. It is by the habits we inherited from others during our early childhood that dependency is created.


We are subconsciously taught to be happy only when we receive something external, such as a gift. Or even on a deeper level, our emotions were manipulated by external validation and acceptance when we displayed behaviors that suited others’ liking.


The good news is that like all habits, this emotional habit can change. Changing any habit is one of the hardest things you can do in your life. Changing your mind to generate the thoughts necessary for you to maintain internal validation and contentment is tremendously difficult. It takes more than a heroic effort, it takes the right strategy.


You have to teach your subconscious mind to see further and deeper into the consequences of your dependent habits. Just as you would become momentarily elated when you receive what small external validation others may give, the rest of your life would be filled with anxiety of not receiving it. This is how your mind associates bad habits with pain and begins to form counter habits to replace them.


In doing so, you must trust on two facts that have been proven to be true:


  1. It’s very much possible, but the amount of time required to change them, is directly proportional to the extent of the bad emotional habits you have.
  2. Self-awareness and honesty are required in this process.


Three – The Illusion of Success and Failure on Somebody Else’s Terms Makes Us Reliant on Their Games


The primary illusion that keeps us dependent on external forces is the standard idea of success and failure in life. Counter-intuitive as they may seem, below are the reasons why this idea is only an illusion and why it is damaging:


Why it is just an illusion: What happiness studies have shown is that we all have different callings and standards for achieving happiness in life. It’s this variety that creates newer sets of knowledge and values that keeps the human species evolving mentally. Yet since we were born, we have constantly bombarded with the idea that to be happy we need bigger houses, nicer cars, being more popular, and on and on. These ideas are all dependent on external things!


Why it is damaging: Having clearly standardized definitions of successes in life, makes it easier to control and exploit your efforts to achieve them. It’s easier to reward people with emotional security and validation. It’s easier to threaten them with anxieties of failure. So we toil and slave away, just to keep up with the Joneses. Slowly, we fall into a pattern of dependency that saps the initiatives life requires away from us. Slowly we feel like second class citizens waiting for the trickle down instead of creating and earning it for ourselves.


Four – We Become First Class Citizens When We Create What We Value Most in Our Own Fashion


The opposite idea of success and failure is the personal initiative to create what we deem valuable. We do this in our own way, no matter how much external reward we get for it. This fills us with the conviction that we are right for life and deserve all the good things it has to offer.


What brings you the most fulfillment? How would you go about creating it for yourself and share it with others? You must learn to have your own values, your own creative processes, and your own way of determining how valuable it is. You need to create this mindset and stick to it if you are ever to be truly self-reliant.


It’s easy to see why depending on others to tell us when we are successful makes us second class citizens. Conversely, when we start to trust our own creative instincts to live productively in what we value, we can only be first class citizens, in our minds and in reality. No amount of materialistic gain can affect this universal law.


Five – We Actualize Our Potentials through Slowly Chipping Away at Life – the Grazing Principle


The grandiose dreams of huge successes and being admired by millions seem to be the driving force for all creative and hard work in the world. However, filled with those dreams, you sit down to get to work, and what happens? Reality smacks you right in the face.


This is because our dreams are based on the results of our work, not on the hard and creative process it takes to achieve your objective. So you must change your objective and method. The objective should be smaller but achievable; the method should be the slow methodical process it takes to master something. This process is called the grazing principle.


The grazing principle simply states that we were not born to dream so big that we are lost in them. We are born to do what we enjoy most, which slowly chips away at a continual and repetitive process. We do this until we look back and see how far we have really gone. We graze like horses do, without a thought of what it means to not reach our unrealistic goals. We are not haunted by anxieties but are constantly filled with the inherent nurturing reward that this process brings. We live in a constant state of Flow.


Slowly but surely, our potentials are fulfilled by our creative thinking and initiative. We will carve a path to success that is completely independent. We take the opportunities that are presented to us, and follow them along with our evolving instinct, to greener and greener pastures.


Six – We Cannot Build Self-Reliance on Dependent Habits, It Must Be Judiciously Built on Its Own Principles


Most of us imagine that when we grow up, we naturally grow out of the dependent state without thinking about it. This is simply not true. Without a will to become independent, we are forever condemned to a life of neurotic dependency.


From when we were born until when we grew out of our teenage world, we were naturally dependent on others for survival and guidance.


However, along with this dependence, there is always another part of you that wants to be independent, buried deep inside. Call it curiosity. Call it rebellion. Call it playfulness. Whatever it is you want to call it, it has always compelled us to do things our own way.


Yet from early on, we are strongly discouraged and emotionally manipulated away from this path. It’s deemed to be too perilous and we are never quite ready at any age. It turns out, without personal initiative, we are never allowed to be ready. We simply have to strike out and accept the consequences. We cannot one day “learn” to be self-reliant. Emotional habits do not work that way, it will always wind back to the default programming that was forced upon us.


Few of us realize that dependency is full of contradictions and tyranny. Those that we depend on are unreliable and inconsistent. Perhaps initially driven by anger, we strive to find out how things work for ourselves. From this curiosity and rebellion, we naturally learn the initiative and consequences of the actions we take on our own behalf. We take an entirely different path from the one laid out before us. We change the emotional habits that we have outgrown.


Seven – We Run Away from Main Tent of Reality to the Sideshow of Fantasies, Where Our Dependent Habits Are Reinforced


Trapped by our morbid dependency, we have all developed a penchant for escaping the reality that we are not allowed to fully grasp on our own. This morbid dependency takes the form of a side tent, where we create an alternate reality from the main tent of life. This side show gives us imaginary untold power and immediate rewards what life seems to deny us.


Initially taught by the dependent emotional habit, we actually build our own shackles in our adult lives. Instead of facing reality and learning to grow in order to adapt to it, we create an alternate persona and an alternate world to fit to our dependent mindsets. Whenever we are faced with the facts of reality in the main tent, those automatic forces create anxiety, causing us to run back to our side show.


The side show was created by a helpless child to contain his mental energies in such a way that it doesn’t bother the adults. However, if this helpless child tends to not disassemble the side show to fully join the main tent when he grows up. This is why to become self-reliant in reality, we must go back and heal this inner child. He must be convinced that the side show is actually not much fun compared to the main tent. He must be given the emotional tools required to play in the main tent with all his energies.


Eight – Love as a Gift Is Something a Truly Emotionally Self-Reliant Can Give


So what is wrong with the dependent mindset anyway? We all work and die at the end, right? No, actually. It does matter to the level of happiness you will achieve in life, in both productivity and the love you share with others. The fact is only a self-reliant person can truly give love as a gift, and not expecting any validation or acceptance in return.


This love is called agápe. It comes from one person pouring water from their cup to another’s. There is no sense of neediness and dependency. Only a person with a full cup can do this. Only a truly emotionally self-reliant person can do this.


The emotionally dependent person is forever doomed to run from one source of fulfillment to another for validation, acceptance, and what they perceive to be love. Their path is already laid with the pains of failure even before they start. Lacking the most basic tools to form emotionally fulfilling activities and happiness, they will end up being pushed away by normal people who see that they are just parasites in life.


Nine – the Self-Reliant Manipulates His Own Thinking and Circumstances, the Dependent Manipulates Others


The self-reliant person is deeply connected to his reality as he perceives it. He constantly opens himself to feedback and adjusts his thinking and method to become more efficacious in his actions. In this respect, he develops the only true form of power in this world – the power to manipulate self to better understand circumstances. Then he can choose to change the circumstances, if he is able to do so, or he can accept it unreservedly and quickly move on, devoting his energy elsewhere.


He seeks to share his values with people who accept them and thus are compatible with him. If there is any incompatibility, he accepts it as a fact of life and continually lives his life his way without any anxiety of what others may think of him.


The dependent person has no such concept. Since all his perception of right and wrong is determined by others, he can only twist their perception of him. He becomes manipulative of others, overtly or subtly.


Ultimately, he will fail. Others are not stupid. They will be privy to his games and intentions. They will ignore and leave his web of deception. The power that he seeks in others will ultimately melt away. The ultimate tragedy is that he will continue to change his method and medium, but would never think to look inside and develop the true power of self reliance.


Ten – General Competitiveness Blocks the True Power of Initiative


The power of initiative allows the self-reliant person to act in accordance with his values and boundaries. This is how he comes in contact with reality and lets it grow inside him organically. This initiative is personal and can only be objectively judged by the person that took it.


This power can only be limited by a false sense of competitiveness. It is falsely attributed since there is no way to objectively judge two person’s initiatives because they will always have different intentions and circumstances.


If a person allows competition to infect his actions, he will be less and less likely to take the initiative. He will defer to others to make the first move. He then falsely perceives circumstances by others’ results instead of his own deepest desires.


The natural competition for resources is not really a competition at all. Have all animals evolved newer tools and methods to adapt to their environments? Those that lock horns will always be overshadowed (and hunted) by those that invent and act.


(BONUS) Eleven – the Dependent Person Will Always Entangle Himself in Deeper Neuroticisms


There is no way a person can live dependently and not be deeply entrenched in some kind of neuroticism. He may imagine himself to master all arenas of life. He may imagine himself infinitely attractive to others. He may resign himself from all worldly desires and wishes. He may efface his identity by living through others.


His punishment is the deep neuroticism that grows out of this unnatural dependent mindset. Men have evolved all necessary mental tools required to be independent. If he does not choose to use these tools as they are meant to be used, they will turn on him.


Imagination, meant to drive planning and initiative, will give him the greatest anxieties he will ever imagine.


Pride, meant to promote righteous action, will make him angry even in the face of the slightest setback.


Complexes, meant for him to perceive and simulate social orders, will make him subservient to others by comparing himself to them.


Heroism, meant to inspire him to carry his out his course of action in the face of the greatest danger, will drive him live at the heel of others.


Contempt, meant for him to identify what he truly values vs. what he disvalues,  will become self-contempt.


I can go on and on, but you should already start to see why all of us must become self-reliant no matter where and how we live. This is the source of all great striving and personal happiness. This is the source of the true form love – agápe. This is the source of true altruism.


Becoming self-reliant requires consistency and constantly exposing yourself to challenging situations. “30 Challenges – 30 Days – Zero Excuses” is a great place to start.

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This article was drafted by my good friend Quan and edited by me. All credit goes to him and his exceptional ideas.

Adrian Iliopoulos

I am the founder and main contributor at "The Quintessential Mind" - A unique personal blog that offers a holistic approach to self-development. I am striving to create high-quality content by investing in a reality-based form of self-help, informed by a deep understanding of psychology, philosophy and my own personal experiences and social adventures.
Adrian Iliopoulos