Don’t let the title of this post fool you. I am a strong supporter of women being and becoming independent. But we’re never fully independent, are we? Not just women, but men, too. There’s always someone who helps us in some way: emotionally, socially, financially…
No (hu)man is an island. Perhaps a better title for this post would be, “On being a human being who gets by with a little (okay, alot) of help from her friends.”
When I was entering young adulthood I had a certain attitude about my economic standing. I was determined to do everything on my own. I would pay my debts. I would earn my money. I wouldn’t take monetary gifts or hand-outs from anyone. Everything I had in this life, I would earn. No one would ever be able to hold anything over my head.
Part of this was born out of necessity. There wasn’t anyone I could turn to for help if my electric bill was late. If I couldn’t make rent, I couldn’t run to my parents for a check. If I wanted to eat I had to bring home enough income to buy food. Instead of letting that terrify me, I chose to let it empower me.
I also chose to let it give me pride in myself. Originally I thought it was a good thing. In our culture that’s where a lot of pride comes from: being self-sufficient and self-made. While those things are good, that pride can turn into pridefulness, which is a significantly negative attribute. It’s an attribute that can stunt us.
I didn’t realize this until I hit a rough patch. I had a job that paid crap after working in a field I loved and fulfilled me. I was at a dead end that I couldn’t get out of: I couldn’t afford to return to school since I couldn’t even afford to pay my bills. I couldn’t further my career while I was distracted with my 9-5 (which often turned into 10 hour shifts instead of 8.) I had to learn humility. I had to learn to accept help. And I did it kicking and screaming.
Now that I’m on the other side, I realize how immature I was to not accept help before. I’m still a young-ish adult. I still make stupid mistakes. I still get angry at people for silly reasons. I still laugh at inappropriate jokes. I’m not the epitome of maturity. But I’m not sure that anyone ever is; we are all constantly growing in this life. And in this particular instance I learned that part of maturity was being humble enough to let other people help and acknowledge their contributions to your life and current standing for what they are: monumental.
I worked incredibly hard to graduate college. I did it with kids. I did it with little sleep. I did it without debt. I did it with a 4.0. But there’s no way on earth I would have ever been able to return to school if it weren’t for my fiance. He worked so incredibly hard (and continues to) while I was a full-time student without a regular job. He paid our bills. He fed me. He sheltered me. He clothed me. He bought diapers for our children. Sure, I got scholarships that helped relieve some of the stress. But they would have been nowhere near enough to do everything he did. He did it because he loves me. And I am so incredibly grateful. I would not be a college graduate if it weren’t for him.
Again, it’s true that I work hard to be the best I can be at what I do. I still have so much to learn and improve. But I’m where I’m at today not only because of myself. If it were all on my work and contributions, I wouldn’t have the networking or wisdom that comes with years of experience. I am where I am today in my career because of so many people. I’ll highlight three. The first are my friends. I learned my skills originally through them, and then refined them in my formal studies. It was at their encouragement that I even considered entering the field I’m in. The second was my first boss in my field. She believed in me and saw strengths where I only felt incompetencies. The third is my most recent mentor. She tirelessly worked/s for me. She trained me. Gave me usable feedback. Encourages me. And does so many other things. Like I said, these are only three of the people that have had a significant influence on my career. I am where I am today not only because of the effort I’ve put in. That’s only a small part of it. I am where I am today because of the effort others have put into me.
The first part of this is financial. Because this is a personal finance blog and because children need parents to provide for them. I have never had to pay for a sitter. Do you know how huge that is? When I was a baby-sitter 10 years ago, I made between $10-20 and hour depending on how many kids there were. I’m guessing that price has inflated. There’s no way our pocketbook could have stretched that thin over the years. But because I have amazing family members that live so close and have so much love, I have received free time to study, go back to work, and even go on the occasional date night to nurture my relationship with that beautiful man who made my college education possible. Our economic situation would be far worse today if I was unable to do these things.
Did I mention these people are full of love? I like to think that there are some good things I’ve taught my children. But I know there are some great things that they have learned from these familial sitters. They’re going to be amazing people because of the village they’re being raised in, and I am only a part of that.
I could have gone it alone. I could still be working at that low-paying job. (Actually, I couldn’t. Childcare costs at this point would have cancelled out what I was making.) If I hadn’t accepted anyone’s help, things would have gotten really bad really quickly. I guess I could be living on the streets, holding up a cardboard sign that says, ‘Don’t give me your loose change. I don’t need your help. I’m going to do this on my own.’
But I’m not. I’m entirely dependent on a network of people that love me. They encourage and inspire me to work hard and be the best that I can be. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in my life, and recognize that I have so much further to go. But I also know that I wouldn’t have accomplished anything without them, and that without them I will go nowhere.
I was the same way. I thought that I would do it all on my own. But no man is or should be an island.
Thank you, Michelle!
What a beautiful Thanksgiving post! There is definitely a stigma attached to letting people help us in our society, which is so ridiculous when we just stop and think about how happy we often are to help the people we love. But I totally get it. I’d’ve been out there on the streets next to you with the same cardboard sign lots of times.
And congrats on finishing school with kids. I can’t even imagine…
Ah, thank you. As I said above, I couldn’t have done it without some serious help. But it does give you a different perspective on your studies.
And you’re so right about that stigma. It’s good to be responsible, but if we let it get too extreme we can really cut ourselves short.
We haven’t talked in a while but I still follow your blog and wanted to let you know that this post really hit home for me today. I needed it!! I was raised the same way, without a safety net of parents, and it has created an inflated sense of pride. I am now a broke grad student with an incredibly supportive boyfriend. I’m still learning to accept help when I absolutely need it. I think there’s some strength in letting someone help you. Maybe our hard work and diligence throughout our lives has made us deserving and especially appreciative of these wonderful men!
Oh I wasn’t sure about this post when I saw the title because I am all about independence, but as I kept reading I came to realize that you are absolutely right…no one is completely independent because that means we would be completely alone, and that would be really sad.
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