The Myth of Self Sufficiency

friends-1015312_1280. I don’t ascribe to a belief in self-sufficiency.

If you are a follower of mine, you know that many of my posts are about strategies and techniques for managing your time, space and belongings to improve your quality of life. In most situations, there are steps you can take to bring about positive change. It might surprise you, therefore, to know that I don’t ascribe to a belief in self-sufficiency.

In fact, I’ve recently been reminded of the inherent interdependence of the human condition. Here is the story:

Almost two years ago my daughter suffered a serious bout of mononucleosis. As it turns out, this kicked her into a pattern of repeated tonsil infections, requiring her to have her tonsils out almost two weeks ago. As she is an adult, we were warned that this would be a major surgery with a difficult recovery. This proved to be something of an understatement. As each day (and night) wore on, I became increasingly aware of how dependent I actually am upon others, including:

  • Doctors, who take midnight calls and provide expertise I lack
  • Nurses, who can insert an IV to provide needed medication
  • Friends, who bring food & flowers, and call to see how things are going (It truly makes a difference to know people care!)
  • Relatives, who relinquish their own agendas to come, stay, and help

The list could go on and on.

At one point or another, most of us endure periods when our insufficiency is palpable… when our inability to “do it all” smacks us in the face. Chaotic experiences can shatter our sense of control as we struggle to remember pertinent details, push through physical challenges, and tackle a long list of new and difficult tasks. The humbling truth is that we need others to make it through.

While it is rough times like these that often drive this lesson home, the reality is that no matter how smart we are or how hard we work, none of us are truly self-sufficient. For example,

  • We eat food we haven’t grown or raised.
  • We use electricity we haven’t generated.
  • We drive vehicles we haven’t manufactured.
  • We lean on expertise that we ourselves have never acquired.
  • We communicate with technology we didn’t build.

In truth, the ability to see our individual limitations is a strength. Garnering available resources is a hallmark of wisdom. While it is good to take responsibility and be accountable, it isn’t necessary (nor is it possible) to flourish in a vacuum.

As we enter a busy season and juggle a number of duties, let us remember that success is not about doing it all yourself. Rather, success is doing what you can and allowing others to do the same.

Do you struggle with the myth of self-sufficiency?

25 thoughts on “The Myth of Self Sufficiency”

  1. I hope that your daughter is doing better. It sounds like it’s been a rough time for you both. Our life lessons come from the most interesting places, don’t they? And from what you’ve been going through, I love how you’ve come to the conclusion that even the most “independent” among us are in fact DEPENDENT on the kindness, expertise, and help from others. It’s what helps us thrive on during challenging and just regular times. Sometimes we rely more heavily on others and in varying degrees. We can be self-sufficient and dependent at the same time. Sending extra hugs to you and get well wishes to your daughter.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…Distractions, Wonderful Conversations, and Driving on EmptyMy Profile

    1. That is exactly my point… we can be self-sufficient (getting things done, tackling our lists, fulfilling our responsibilities) and dependent at the same time. In fact, we all are every day. I remember when the power went out after Superstorm Sandy. Talk about realizing how dependent I am! Nothing like not being able to charge your phone or cook to make you realize how interlinked we all are. Thank you for your kind words to my daughter – she’s on the mend now. Glad to have the worst behind us.

    1. Thank you so much, Janine. We are in a much better place today then we were last week. Everybody goes through these difficult times, but I am optimistic that she now has this behind her, and next year she will be able to enjoy good health and a less interrupted life! The chaos reminded me that we all need each other, and are interconnected in ways we often don’t appreciate. Like the lift we get from kind words in a blog post:)

  2. I truly know what you’re talking about and am happy to read that your daughter is doing much better. Five years ago this Thanksgiving I had a major operation. I spent an entire week in the hospital. It took me a full year to recover and get myself to a point where I no longer felt dependent on my support team. It was a humbling and eye opening experience. I count my blessings everyday.

    1. Sounds like a rough year, Diane. It really can take a year to feel that full recovery, physically, emotionally, and productively! The funny thing is was realizing that even when I think I am in control and “doing it all,” I’m really not. I’m always dependent on others, and that isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. We are designed to be interconnected, and blessed when we have people in our lives who freely give, support and encourage!

  3. A great way of looking at self sufficiency, i love the way you point out we use technology and expertise we didn’t actually have any part in producing, but yet we think we are self sufficient. We watched the “Martian” movie on the weekend, although he managed to keep him self alive alone on Mars, it took others for the outcome that happened. A very thought provoking post.
    Jill Robson recently posted…5 steps to help you start the organizing processMy Profile

    1. Exactly, Jill. We tend to discount the tools and supplies we use, even though we could not function without them. I remember when we lost power for an extended period of time after Superstorm Sandy. Not being able to charge my phone or cook a meal was a reminder of how interdependent we all are!

    1. It is important to be willing to accept help, which can be difficult for some people. When you think about it, we get help every day without even realizing it, so there should be no shame is seeking to maximize resources.

    1. That is so true, Janet! None of us is completely self-reliant, even on our good days. Being willing to help out and offer caring opens a pathway for reciprocity when the tables turn. I think the idea that we need to do it all by ourselves is harmful, leading to a weight of self-recrimination which is detrimental and unnecessary.

  4. Hi Seana,
    I am so glad that your daughter is doing better. But any health issues really do take a toll physically and mentally, not to mention all the added paperwork that comes with it.
    Sometimes we need others to help us through these kinds of times. It is wonderful that you have a support network to help you out.
    I have also found that letting go of certain things is important too. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
    Thinking of you.

    1. Thanks so much, Neena. There definitely needs to be a “letting go” at various times in our lives for a wide variety of reasons. What is important today may seem trivial in light of unfolding events tomorrow. Acknowledging that we never are completely self sufficient alleviates the burden of feeling like we should be:)

  5. Love the message in this post! With my father’s recent hip replacement surgery, this sentiment was more than evident. It’s taken him a bit to get used to relying on others, but with very little choice he’s let go and seems to really have made some deep connections with people. He’s finally doing better. I’m glad your daughter is on the mend and hopefully can eat some mashed potatoes for Turkey Day!

    1. My daughter has her “check up” appointment tomorrow and we are hoping for the thumbs up to chow down:) Hip replacement is a big one, and it takes a long time to work your way back. Totally worth it, though, if it alleviates all that pain and weakness. Long and short of this post… none of us is actually self sufficient, even when we think we are. So we can all just lighten up and accept a helping hand. Happy Thanksgiving, Sarah!

  6. I learned this lesson when I was unexpectedly put on 100% bed-rest during my second pregnancy. My oldest was 2 years old. We were stationed in Japan and my husband was TDY to another country. This very independent woman had to allow friends and neighbors to come make every meal and even bathe my oldest baby. It was humbling and drove home how we must help each other (and accept help). Thanks for the reminder, Seana.
    Susan recently posted…Free Bathroom Organization IdeasMy Profile

    1. We all go through these tough times at one point or another, and we are lucky if we have people to step in and help us out! I had a similar experience with one of my pregnancies, though without the complication of being overseas – rough!! Even in day to day life, we rely on others. Lose power for a day or need a flat tire fixed and I am instantly reminded of how interdependent I really am.

  7. My sister had a similar story. She had mono, and then kept having problems with her tonsils. She got them out when she was 21!
    I agree – that recovery is ROUGH.
    You are so right about self-sufficiency. I remember when we had a storm here several years ago and it knocked out the power. It was like a zombie town around here. No one knew what to do. I didn’t! And I was pregnant!
    Tamara recently posted…Which Vitamins Are Right For YOU This Holiday Season?My Profile

  8. We are all better together! Look around and see what we need for help – tech comes up right away! I thank my tech guy all the time for helping me to be online. I also look to see who helps me in little ways, like the Goodwill people who unload my car.

    1. I don’t think any of us could live with the tech guy! And yes, charities who pick up and receive donations, companies who make filing and storage supplies, gas stations which I need to get from client to client. The list is literally endless. When you realize how co-dependent we really area, you alleviate some of the pressure to “do it all.”

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