The Transformative Freedom of Self-Reliance
At our core, we are creatures of comfort.
It plays a huge role in why we resist change, and why we struggle to leave or change our circumstances when they are mediocre at best (or destructive for our health and wellbeing, at worst). Sure, there may be better options out there, but they’re unknowns! Giant question marks! At least where-you-are-now is a known quantity.
If you’ve ever made a big leap - like quitting a secure job, leaving a relationship, or making a big move to a new city – you know that there’s usually this long runway leading up to the moment of decision. And during that runway, we can do a whole lot of agonizing.
Agonizing, between we’re caught between two forces – each with its own appeal: the allure of what could be, and the comfort of familiarity with what we have now.
Real quick - a little story:
I’ve mentioned before that one of the biggest life-changing leaps I’ve made was leaving a long-term relationship in my early twenties that otherwise could have easily turned into Forever, by sheer inertia.
I knew I needed to leave – and eventually, as scary as it was to leap into the unknown, I did. But before making the jump, I spent a lot of time anxiously, unhappily staying put. And one of the most compelling reasons I’d found to stay in that relationship long past the point that it met my needs and made me happy was this:
I believed I needed that particular partner. And I was afraid of life without it.
Part of that fear was about the security blanket factor, and all those ‘safe’ things I’d be giving up by leaving. I had an affordable place to live – one that I really liked! He and his family made up a huge chunk of my social network. We’d listed each other in various places as emergency contacts. Without him, where would I go if disaster struck?
And then on top of that, there was his knowhow and experience – all those adult things he just knew that I didn’t, by being older than me. He helped me with my finances, replaced my headlights when they blew out, and knew what to do when using my hairdryer and the microwave at the same time blew a fuse. He knew how to buy real estate, take out a loan, and do his taxes without the TurboTax wizard. Who would show me how to do all those things when I needed to know them?
Fast forward a few years into that relationship, to a time when my car was old and on its last legs.
One of the first things to go was that trusty beeeeeeep that used to let me know I’d accidentally left my headlights on. And without that beeeeeeep, I started accidentally leaving my headlights on all. the. time. And it would kill my battery.
The first time it happened, I panicked. I was stranded in my near-empty office parking lot after work with a dead car, and no jumper cables – and even if I had them, what was I gonna do with them? I knew nothing about cars. Cue anxiety. Luckily, one of my coworkers who hadn’t left yet came to my rescue, and showed me how to jump start my car. That night when I got home, I beelined for my laptop on the couch and ordered myself a set of jumper cables on Amazon.
As I saw the order confirmation email hit my inbox, I felt this tiny burst of liberation as I realized that next time, I wouldn’t need a hero. Next time, I’d have everything I needed to rescue myself.
That was when it started to sink in: I didn’t need a partner – this partner – to keep me safe, or rescue me from all my future challenges. I needed to become that person for myself – the person I could trust to solve the problem or to figure it out, no matter what “it” was.
With each new thing I learned how to do for myself from that day on, I could feel my confidence build and the fear subside.“I can do hard things. I can handle unknowns. I’m capable of rescuing myself.”
Self-reliance is both power, and freedom.
It builds on itself each time we prove to ourselves that we’re capable of more than we thought. And that starts with taking actions – small, uncomfortable actions.
One of the most powerful things you can do to build confidence, trust yourself, and feel capable is to not just learn to do hard things – but then to go do them. For me, it was about ditching the mindset that it was better to wait for someone to ‘just do it for me’ and realizing the value of getting the results I wanted for myself.
It was a hard shift to make.
A more recent example of this was at a previous job when I felt ready for a promotion and more responsibilities. I’d been at the organization long enough and had proven my worth… I’d hoped it would just happen for me. But of course, that’s almost never how it works.
I considered staying in limbo and just waiting, building quiet resentment with each passing day when no one read my mind, started that conversation for me, or handed me what I wanted. Instead, I decided it was worth the risk to ask for what I wanted. So I ignored the nervous knots in my stomach, and started making a plan.
I put together a proposal that spelled out exactly what I was asking for, how it would benefit the company, and how it would impact everyone’s workflow. I scheduled a meeting with our department head, and walked her through it. When the process stalled, I followed up. I went to HR with questions of how I could keep this moving forward.
To be clear, most of that process was really uncomfortable, and there was no guarantee it was going to work out. There were hard conversations, moments of deep frustration, and tears shed in an HR office. But asking for what I wanted – and in a clear, thoughtful way – gave me a much more empowering role to play than Person Who Grows Increasingly Bitter Hoping Her Boss Will Take a Hint and Promote Her, even if the outcome hadn’t gone my way.
To build the life you want, you have to be willing to go out on a limb for yourself.
You have to decide up front that it’s worth it to fall on your face, to risk disappointment, to say things out loud that make your voice shake because they’re scary and true, and they need to be said.
Waiting for the right hero to swoop in at the right moment with the right solution is convenient – but it relegates you to the role of passenger in your own story. On the other hand, there’s nothing quite like realizing that you are the person you can count on if disaster strikes.
That doesn’t mean you have all the answers, or that you’ll never make mistakes.
But once you can build that deep, sturdy trust in yourself that you have the tools, the instincts, and the resourcefulness to handle the curveballs as they come, you’ll realize you have so many more options than you once thought.
These days, I have so much more faith in my ability to handle the surprises and do hard things, it’s one of the strongest grounding forces in my life. I no longer waste time and energy trying to control the future (it's a losing battle!) or believing I’m ‘stuck’ in situations that aren’t serving me.
Cultivating that sense of trust in yourself can free you up to take more chances on your terms, be more honest with yourself, and dream bigger – because you’ll no longer be a prisoner to that fear of whatever challenges or surprises lie ahead.
A challenge for you
Is there something you’re unhappy about or hoping will change, where you’re waiting for someone else to come fix it? Get really honest with yourself here. Where might you be hoping someone will swoop in and do the work for you – by making a change, handing you what you want, or offering you a solution?
Take a good hard look at that hope – you don’t need to beat yourself up for it, but see if you can shift your thinking, and look for ways you could step in and be your own solution, changemaker, or rescuer.
What small-but-uncomfortable step can you take right now toward the solution or reality you want?
Now if you’re feeling extra brave, grab your calendar and pick a time - an actual day and time - when you'll do it. Get that ball rolling, and see how it feels. I can't promise it'll be all fun and smiles, but I can almost guarantee you'll feel accomplished, powerful, and hopeful by doing it.
Sending you extra courage and clarity to move things forward in support of yourself this week!