Collecting the tools of a sustainable, self-directed life

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11- Declaration of Non-Independence

Independence is a cornerstone of the American ethos. Its essence—separate, self-directed, unaided, flourishing success—seeps from the storied founding we celebrate on the Fourth of July to the self-reliant, bootstrapping moral imperative demanded of its citizens. This independence is a legend I overvalued for most of my life. 

Recently my mother, stepdad and sister came to see my fledgling life in the Hudson Valley. Before arriving, my mother requested a 5-day itinerary. When we spoke after I emailed it to her, the first thing she said was, “Girl, you got us workin' like dogs at your camper!” When I called my sister, she picked up the phone and moaned, “I thought you said we weren’t going to have to work on this trip.” 

They were referring to the three two-hour work sessions I'd scheduled. The rest of the activities highlighted the best of my new town and some of my favorite spots in NYC. Although we had previously discussed them helping out,“working like dogs” became a running joke for the trip.  

For me, the joke stung a little. It reminded me of my desperation for their knowledge, their presence, support and help. I had put everything I had into this this new life. And I was terrified of failing. 

When they arrived at 99, they were impressed. The camper was bigger and much more substantial than they expected. They could see why the camper, the land, the town and the community were a good fit for me. They were proud of and energized by what I’d accomplished in only five months on the property. 

Despite my insistence that we stop after working two and half hours Tuesday morning, my family persisted. They were determined to finish the projects and help as much as possible. 

In the end, we spent over 10 hours on the camper with no complaints—only wishes for more time. It was their favorite part of the trip. 

But still, I felt guilty, uneasy. Needing their help suggested that I wasn’t strong, effective, successful, enough. Having their help, I didn’t know if I could be. Whatever success I had, would not be solely my own. And perhaps I was not independent. 

As I wrestled with my discomfort, I was reminded of weddings, children, new homes and the showers, family support and planning that often come with them. I remembered that the greatest predictor of an American’s income, wealth or professional success is that of their parents. And I recalled how support can even be contracted. In exchange for work, we receive income and sometimes benefits (insurance, retirement plans), access to programs (volunteer opportunities, discounts, health coaches), community and belonging. We pay taxes and get public schools, libraries, roads, etc,. 

Not one of us stands solely on the fruit of our own merit.  Even for adults to rise to their highest selves, it takes a village. Or, as James Truslow Adams said coining the American Dream, a social order developed for their benefit. The delusion of independence runs counter to that dream. 

Today, I practice asking for help because I know that to reach my highest self, I can’t do it alone. And when people give of themselves freely, I practice accepting the gift without guilt or shame. And I remind myself that doing so does not deplete them or diminish me. Instead, it bolsters passion-based living and relationship through shared work, resources, time, experience and gratitude. Need connects me to my village, while the delusion of independence hampers the support of “the simple human being of any and every class”.

How has moving off the beaten path made you reconsider the idea of independence? How has it brought you closer to your village or understanding Adams’s “social order”? Answer in the comments below.