Self-Reliance I

My uncle and I had a short discussion about the Bildungsroman the other day, a genre of novel that focuses on the moral and psychological development of its main character. It is what we might call a “coming of age story,” where the protagonist matures to find his place in society. Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister is the prototypical example of this genre as is its descendent Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. These stories provide useful guidelines and currents of inspiration for anyone who is desirous of coming into his own.

There are many forces at work which conspire to prevent the individual from realizing his full potential. These forces notwithstanding, there are many tendencies within the individual himself which, like weeds in a garden, lead to a tangled mess if handled improperly. Coming into one’s own is not a sure bet, for potential must be consistently and repeatedly translated into action, many times against all odds.

The character qualities of self-confidence and self-reliance can go a long way to overcoming the many obstacles to a complete transition from childhood to adulthood. Each one must live his own life and coming to that realization is paramount to successfully navigating the transition. William George Jordan provided an excellent framework for the importance and cultivation of self-reliance in the individual in his book “The Majesty of Calmness”:

Self-confidence, without self-reliance, is as useless as a cooking recipe,―without food. Self-confidence sees the possibilities of the individual; self-reliance realizes them. Self-confidence sees the angel in the unhewn
block of marble; self-reliance carves it out for himself.

The man who is self-reliant says ever: ‘No one can realize my possibilities for me, but me; no one can make me good or evil but myself.’ He works out his own salvation,―financially, socially, mentally, physically, and morally. Life is an individual problem that man must solve for himself. Nature accepts no vicarious sacrifice, no vicarious service. Nature never recognizes a proxy vote. She has nothing to do with middle-men,―she deals only with the individual. Nature is constantly seeking to show man that he is his own best friend, or his own worst enemy. Nature gives man the option on which he will be to himself.

All the athletic exercises in the world are of no value to the individual unless he compel those bars and dumb-bells to yield to him, in strength and muscle, the power for which he, himself, pays in time and effort. He can never develop his muscles by sending his valet to a gymnasium.

The medicine-chests of the world are powerless, in all the united efforts, to help the individual until he reach out and take for himself what is needed for his individual weakness.

All the religions of the world are but speculations in morals, mere theories of salvation, until the individual realize that he must save himself by relying on the law of truth, as he sees it, and living his life in harmony with it, as fully as he can. But religion is not a Pullman car, with soft-cushioned seats, where he has but to pay for his ticket,―and someone else does all the rest. In religion, as in all other great things, he is ever thrown back on his self-reliance. He should accept all helps, but,―he must live his own life. He should not feel that he is a mere passenger; he is the engineer, and the train is his life. We must rely on ourselves, live our own lives, or we merely drift through existence,―losing all that is best, all that is greatest, all that is divine.

All that others can do for us is to give us opportunity. We must ever be prepared for the opportunity when it comes, and to go after it and find it when it does not come, or that opportunity is to us,―nothing. Life is but a succession of opportunities. They are for good or evil,―as we make them.

We certainly need one another, but the individual must come to terms with his own participation if the synergies of the whole are to be realized in full. If the number of immature, self-centered and dependent adults outweigh those who have come into their own, who have embraced a magnanimous spirit of serve and who have grown into a state of self-reliance, a society, family, company or group is no longer tenable. The quality of the parts determines the integrity of the whole and unfortunately, there are no shortcuts.

 

The Real You

“It is required of every man,” the ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.” ~ Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

How abundantly has your spirit within you walked abroad among your fellow-man? Are there times where you were more at rest with yourself, more willing to let your spirit “travel far and wide” than others? If so, why? What was different?

Many people have lived their lives running to and fro in the earth, desperately seeking a way to extract joy, pleasure, fulfillment and happiness from the world at large, while many others have lived their lives motivated almost exclusively by a deep-rooted fear of loss. Either approach misses the point of life entirely and both tend to end in the same shallow grave.

One of my favorite aspects of my company’s corporate culture is the idea that my team and I can build a safe place where the spirits within us can find safe harbor. I know of no one who has escaped the jaws of life as it now is without a bruise or two, and letting down the barriers and fronts to reveal one’s inner spirit can be a bit daunting at first. Over time, however, the spirit within shines more and more brightly, illuminating the way for others.

This all sounds a bit airy-fairy as I write this, but it is a very real, tangible and at times visceral process. When someone believes in you more than you believe in yourself, when someone trusts you more than you trust yourself and when someone pushes you more than you push yourself you have an opportunity to let go of self-constructed limitations to the expression of who you really are, The Real You.

It will likely take time, as those walls, defenses and scar tissue took time to build and grow, but given the right nourishment and surround, you can and should blossom. Holding back is the only thing that will stunt your growth or retard your progress.

I believe that people can always change for the better. Scrooge did it late in life in what is perhaps one of the most inspiring pieces of literature ever written, and so can you! It is never too late to give more freely of yourself to the world around you.

The question is: will you do what it takes to let your spirit travel farther and wider than you’ve permitted until now? Life is too short to hold back. Whether or not the ghost’s warning is true, I see no reason why anyone should tempt fate and fail to do his or her part in allowing for the unconditional and unrestricted flow of spirit into expression no matter how big or how small the task at hand might be.

Dress for Success

“Great men are seldom over-scrupulous in the arrangement of their attire.” – Charles Dickens

One thing should be clear: clothes do not make a man a gentleman or a woman a lady; and, by the same token, a real gentleman or a true lady is always a gentleman or a lady, no matter what he or she wears. The clothes you wear either magnify or cloak your personality and what you wear is in many ways less important than how you wear it.

I relaxed my company’s dress code today in hopes that there might be room for greater creative freedom, not just in apparel choices but in thought and deed. We’ve been heavily engaged in breaking down assumptions we’ve held that have prevented us in any way from making it easy for our clients to do business with us and this fashion statement was freshly pressed to that end.

The fashion choices we make are deeply personal. Like our food choices, they are based part on preference, part on need, part on availability and part on custom. Your clothing is a calling card to your personality, to your mood and to your outlook and your ability to dress appropriately can have a significant impact on how successful you are in any department of life.

It is possible to overdress. It is possible to underdress. At times it makes sense to overdress while it is less commonly advisable to underdress. The key is to dress in such a way that you do not hinder your effectiveness in life. Neutral or helpful is good. Hindrance is bad.

I’ve found that first impressions are important to people but at the same time I’ve always enjoyed the times when I’ve been surprised to learn that my initial impressions were incorrectly formed. Appearances can be deceiving and its worth remembering that fact lest you be caught in a web of prejudice.

In relaxing the dress code at my company I hope that everyone will rise to the occasion and take care to determine what is appropriate. We don’t live in a time like the Elizabethan era where what was worn when was formalized and rigid. That said, the art of appropriateness lives on.

There are those (often men) who say that they don’t really care about what they wear, but then when you look at them from one situation to the next they somehow end up not just fitting in but often matching what others around them wear. I was recently in a small town where every guy had a baseball cap on with sunglasses perched atop the cap. I was convinced of a fashion conspiracy, but were I to ask about it I’m sure that every one of them would have said that they put no thought to the ensemble.

There is no harm done in caring about what you wear, neither is there any problem in my book with not caring much about what you wear, unless your lack of concern gets in the way of you delivering the greatness that is yours to give. Clothing fitly chosen, like words fitly spoken are an aspect of your aesthetic and there is no reason to decrease the odds of someone receiving you due to a poorly composed aesthetic.

At the end of the day, it’s not so much what you wear but the goods you deliver that tell the tale. If you don’t have the resources to wear what you would like to wear, don’t be ashamed. Do the best you can with what you have and you can’t go wrong. As Albert Einstein said “If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies…It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.”