I’ve always thought of myself as an independent person.
When I was a kid, I was proud of the fact that I packed my own lunches every day instead of relying on my parents to do it for me. In school, I preferred solving problems by myself over asking anyone for help. I followed the rules, found most of the things I needed on my own, and I rarely piped up when I was lost or confused.
As I got older, this self-reliance became political. I wanted to be a strong, independent woman who didn’t need a man—or anyone else—to define my self worth. I had a vague disdain of friends who spoke too openly about wanting a partner. In truth I wanted one too, but I wasn’t about to say that out loud.
I convinced myself that independence was a virtue, and admitting that you needed other people was a fault.
When I got into my first serious relationship, I was uncomfortable describing myself as part of a couple. My proud independence had been a staple of my identity for so long. Finally, I started to ease into coupledom. I relaxed the arbitrary standards that I placed on what I should and shouldn’t do alone.
That relationship ended, and I entered another phase of independence. But this phase was much more humble. I now missed sharing day-to-day life with another person. I was no longer afraid to admit that I wanted and even needed a partner. Without the comfort of a relationship, I had to be more proactive about finding emotional support. I became more aware of how much love my friends and family had always provided. Who was I kidding about being so-called independent all those years?
The reality is, I had never really been independent, and I didn’t want to be.
Those sandwiches that I prepared all by myself? Yeah, those were made with groceries that my parents bought, in a comfortable, safe home that my parents provided. Those years of being a just-fine-by-myself single person? They were made possible by the people who loved and encouraged me in all kinds of small and significant ways.
There’s no such thing as independence. We all rely on a wide range of people and support systems to thrive.
It’s good to be self-sufficient, but it’s not good to cling to independence as a value unto itself. We all need love, we all need people who believe in us and there’s absolutely no shame in admitting that.
Independence is not doing things on your own. It’s harnessing the power of many loving people and doing as much as you can from that foundation. It’s having the courage to pursue your goals even when you feel alone. It’s the willingness to take risks, to eschew traditional paths and to trust your own instincts. In other words, independence is much more potent when you include other people.
The next time you’re feeling proud of your accomplishments, remember the people who got you there. No one does their best alone. It’s the people around us who truly make us great.
Photo by Lisa Wiseman