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The Costs of Self-Sufficiency to Your Career and Life

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

I used to believe that independence and self-sufficiency were superior states to aspire to and completely bought into the tales of the self-made person. How one person alone, through unquenchable will, rose above their conditions and circumstances and became successful. To some extent I still do, as I see the value of self-determination and sufficiency, however, I now see a lot of faults and costs to this line of thinking and socialization.

For the most part, I grew up very independent. I left home at an early age and made serious choices about my future from a young age. It was me against the world, I needed to fight to survive and I was proud of my self-sufficiency and growing accomplishments. A thing our Western individualistic culture reinforces. The problem was that this survival/coping mechanism did not fare well in other areas of my life. It was hard to be in relationships being fiercely individualistic. I did not understand why I had to check in on some things, I just did them. Another area where it was problematic was being so uncomfortable to receive or ask for help. Both were so foreign to me. I used to think that if you ask for help than you are saying you can ‘t do it yourself and that would be weak. Boy, was I wrong! In fact, most successful people have/had a great coach, mentor, family, network or friend, someone they relied upon and asked for guidance.

This is something that Malcolm Gladwell argues in Outliers: The Story of Success. He argues, and provides evidence, that successful people did not succeed by individual traits such as personality or intelligence but by culture, socialization, and legacies, “they are the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.”[1] I used to think Oprah was a self-made woman, but then learned she had a coach. I then thought of Serena Williams and anybody good at their game (sport or otherwise) and they all have or had someone or a community to support them. It was only when I started to ask for help, and recognize the support I did receive, that I saw significant changes in my life.

So you can imagine it pains me when I hear people wanting to do it on their own, “doing the same thing but expecting different results” and focusing solely on financial cost without considering personal or professional costs. They do not see that their habit of self-sufficiency is costing their growth. Don’t get me wrong; I believe there is a time and place for independence. I want my clients to be able to go at it and sustain their results when our work ends. I should be a shortcut to their progress but I now see that interdependence is the ultimate goal; where you are not dependent or independent but mutually dependent. Steven R. Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People attests to this, that highly effective people are interdependent. Actually, we do not have to look further than our ecosystem. Biodiversity is born, and runs, on interdependence. Without one thing the other tends to die off, organisms are delicately linked.

Now, are you someone who resonates with this? Are you the overfunctioner[2] at work who does not delegate because they do not want to ask for help or cannot receive? Or maybe you feel you alone can do it right and drown in tasks due to your ego and control. Extreme self-sufficiency can be a result of that too. I know a lot of entrepreneurs who suffer from their self-sufficiency, they are either saving a buck by not hiring or outsourcing or they feel they alone can do it the best. Thankfully, I am a recovering overfunctioner and now delegate and hire to fill in the gaps. I have accepted I cannot do it alone and decided I don’t want to. I now know that my growth is interdependent on others and I am thankful to all the people who did support me along the way.

If this does resonate with you, I invite you to think of one thing you can reach out for and ask help with today or this week?


Ps. if you don't want to go at it alone anymore and think career and life coaching may benefit you, sign up for a complimentary Get Acquainted Call to see if I can help.

[1]Gladwell, M. (2013). Outliers: The story of success. (pp.19) New York: Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company.

[2]Dr. Harriet Lerner uses the term “overfunctioner” in the Dance of Intimacy to describe someone who takes on a lot whereby others do not need to function as much because of their over functioning.

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