The other day I had a weird experience. There was a conversation with a colleague that impacted me and got me out of a rut that I had been in for some time. We all go through rough patches in life and business.  But this one lasted longer than any I had experienced. This colleague didn’t even know what she had said. She let something slip that showed there had been a behind my back conversation that was not flattering (although not mean spirited). Upon hearing her word I realized a person I was counting on to help me was not going to step up in the way I needed.  I was going to have to count on self reliance. There was not cavalry coming to my assistance.

Self reliance. Boom. The thought hit me between my eyes. Self reliance.

I was reminded of reading Emerson’s 1841 essay on Self Reliance. I had it read two decades ago. I do not fully agree that one should only trust thyself. One of my mottos is “all opportunities come from people”, yet the number of people who are true givers is much smaller than most people think.  I used to believe it was around one in ten, but it is more likely one in a thousand. So few people set up to help. Oh, they talk about it and most claim they are real givers.  But when you go through a tough period of time (as I did earlier this year), you find that in many situations you are alone in your own heart and soul. There is nobody (or few) who can really see past their own bullshit to realize you need them.

Society has made us believe we are in some big social contract and that people are there for you.  But Emerson did not see it this way. I have spent much of my life ignoring self reliance. My own ideas seemed to need approval from others. Yet Emerson said “To believe that what is true in your private heart is true for all men — that is genius.”  In the last few years I have stopped caring so much what others think and I have started to try new things. This combination is tied to my goal to make age 50 to 75 the best years in my life.

I still believe that your network matters and that other people do sometimes step up to help.  But self reliance must come first. Emerson thought the attention was important for an individual to resist pressures to conform to external norms, including those of society. Society, he believed, conspires to defeat self-reliance in its members. I get this.

The truth is in finding the right mix.  Do not trust that random people will be there for you in your time of need.  Even friends or family will dismiss your stress to protect themselves. People hate to think of anything that is off the norm. They are too into trying to control their own stuff. You have to rely on you. Self reliance has to be the first place you look.  Then there is cultivating “Forever Friends“. These are the very small numbers of people who will always be there for you and step up time after time.

I have written and often speak about “Forever Friends”. They are so rare. You need to appreciate them. Some people do not have these types of relationships in their life. Others think they do, only to be disappointed. I have some people in this category, but I have also had fake “Forever Friends”. There is one person in particular who has made this lesson of the faux friend very painful. But the experience with this person also has shown me the path to self reliance.

If you have never read Emerson’s essay, “Self Reliance”, take the time to read the text. It is long (Maybe 10,000 words- so like a small book). The language is clearly from the 1800s, but it should inspire you to take ownership of your life.


Thom Singer is a motivational speaker and professional master of ceremonies / EmCee.