A normal person is capable of independence and self-reliance, yet comparatively few people ever develop their ability to stand alone. It is so much easier to lean, to trail, to follow somebody else, to let others do the thinking and the planning and the work. One of the worst faults of the typical person is that, if he does not possess commanding talents in some particular direction, he usually does not think it worthwhile to make the most of what he has. Do not think that, just because you are not a born leader, you are a born leaner. Because you have no great commanding qualities of leadership is no reason why you should not cultivate the little you have. We never know what resources or possibilities of strength are ours until we put our powers to the test.
Many a man has proved himself a great leader who did not seem to be so naturally who showed at first very little evidence of self-reliance. Leaders do not follow. They do not reflect the opinion of the majority. They think. They create. They make their own program and carry it out. How few people stand for anything in particular! The majority of mankind are merely so many individuals in the census; they help make a larger crowd; but how few men stand above or beyond their fellow man and are self-sufficient! Almost everybody you see is leaning on something or somebody. Some lean on their money, some on their friends; some depend upon their clothes, their pedigree, their social standing; but how seldom we see a man who stands fair and square on his own feet; who goes through life on his own merits, and is self-reliant and resourceful.
In later life we never quite forgive those who have allowed us to lean upon them, for we know that it has deprived us of our birthright. A child is not satisfied when his father shows him how to do a certain thing. But watch the exultant expression on his face when by actually doing it he has conquered the thing himself. This new sense of conquest is an added power which increases self-confidence and self-respect. A college education does not develop the practical faculties. It merely furnishes the workman with his tools. He must learn by practice how to wield them skillfully. It is the school of “hard knocks” that develops character and brings out the success material in a man.
The greatest service a teacher can render a student is to train him to depend upon himself, to trust to his own powers. If the youth does not practice self-reliance, he will be a weakling, a failure. One of the greatest delusions that a human being could ever have is that he is permanently benefited by continued assistance from others. Power is the goal of every worthy ambition, and only weakness comes from imitation or dependence on others. Power is self-developed, self-generated. We cannot increase the strength of our muscles by sitting in a gymnasium and letting another exercise for us. Nothing else so destroys the power to stand alone as the habit of leaning upon others. If you lean, you will never be strong or original.
Stand alone or bury your ambition to be something in life. The man who tries to give his children a start in life so that they will not have to struggle as hard as he had to, is unknowingly bringing disaster upon them. What he calls giving them a start will probably give them a setback in the world. Young people need all the motivational power they can get. They are naturally leaners, imitators, copiers, and it is easy for them to develop into echoes, imitations. They will not walk alone while you furnish them crutches; they will lean upon you just as long as you will let them. It is self-help, not pulls or influence, self-reliance, not leaning upon others, that develops stamina and strength. “He who sits on the cushion of advantage goes to sleep,” said Emerson.
What is there so paralyzing to strenuous endeavor, so fatal to self-exertion, to self-help, as to be helped, as to feel that there is no necessity for exertion because somebody else has done everything for us! “One of the most disgusting sights in the world is that of a young man with healthy blood, broad shoulders, a presentable pair of calves, and one hundred and fifty pounds more or less of bone and muscle, standing with his hands in his pockets waiting for help.”
Did you ever think how many people you know who are just waiting for something? Many of them do not know just what; but they are waiting for something. They have an indefinite idea that somehow something is coming to them, that there will be some fortunate conjunction of circumstances, or something will happen which will make an opening for them, or someone will help them, so that without very great education or preparation or capital, they can get a start for themselves, or get ahead some way. Some are waiting for money which may come from a father’s fortune, from a rich uncle, or some other distant relative.
Others are waiting for that mysterious something called “luck,” a “pull” or a “boost” to help them. I have never known a person who had this habit of waiting for help, or for somebody to give him a boost, of waiting for somebody else’s money, or for assistance of any kind, or for luck to come to him, that never really amounted to much. It is the man who strips himself of every prop, who throws away his crutches, burns his bridges behind him, and depends upon himself, that wins. Self-reliance is the key that opens the door to achievement. Self-reliance is the unfolder of power. There is nothing that will so undermine self-confidence, which is the very foundation stone of all achievement, as the habit of expecting help from others.