by Liz Jansen
Last summer I was a 60-year-old woman, traveling solo by motorcycle across the continent, camping, exploring, and meeting many wonderful friends. This spring, I was back where I started geographically, confined to a small apartment—the same woman, but in a wheelchair recovering from a smashed shoulder from a crash, and a broken ankle, the result of a slip while walking on wet grass.
It was a hard lesson on learning the pros and cons of independence. With much time for reflection, here’s what I’ve learned—so far.
Pros of Independence
- Self-confidence. It’s very empowering to have the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wherewithal to look after yourself. It allows you to take on challenges you’d otherwise pass by.
- Financial. Possessing a few fix-it and maintenance skills is liberating and cost-effective. Recognizing signs of trouble, whether it’s on your motorcycle or a leaky faucet, allows you to take action before irreversible damage occurs. Calling a tradesperson or mechanic every time you need to fix something costs time and money.
- Freedom. When you feel independent, you feel like you can do anything. And you can! But freedom always needs to be exercised wisely.
- Flexibility. Independence gives you greater choice in selecting alternatives. If a road is closed for construction, you can go the long way around. But if you don’t have enough gas, you’re in trouble.
- Convenience. It’s often a lot quicker, less expensive, and less frustrating to be able to correct a problem, rather than wait for help to arrive on their schedule.
- Resilience. Crap happens to everyone. When you know you can sort something out, even if it’s messy or takes a while, you bounce back from adversity more quickly.
- Resourcefulness. When you’re on your own and things go wrong, there’s no one around besides you to figure out a solution. Sure we can call for help, but learning how to get out of a predicament teaches us a lot more about what we’re capable of and adds skills to our repertoire that we may need down the road, when help isn’t available.
Cons of Independence.
- The Ask. It is very hard to ask for help. It can even feel demeaning. Most of us would much sooner give help than receive it. Yet we know how fulfilling it can be to help someone in need. Asking for and accepting help from someone is a gift to them, as well as to you.
- Disconnection. There’s a danger of getting caught up in your own world, failing to see how your actions influence those around you. On a larger scale, we can lose sight of how we affect our natural environment.
- Blindness. Being independent takes work and it also comes with luck. Circumstances beyond our control can make us dependent on others. When we feel independent, we see the world through the eyes of someone without constraints, forgetting there are others—whether through illness, divorce, or job loss—who need help to get by.
- Complacency. I’ve felt independent—able to care for myself and do whatever I choose—my whole life. It’s a shock when that gets taken away, even when you know it’s temporary. It turns your world upside down.
- Loneliness. People make assumptions about someone who’s self-sufficient, and won’t offer help as readily or invite involvement because they think you don’t want or need it. Then you have to ASK.
- Financial. It costs more to live alone, travel alone, and work independently. Cooperatives exist for a very good reason. Aside from facilitating economies of scale, they make you less vulnerable to fluctuations from prices, health, or ability, depending on the type of coop.
- Effectiveness. One person can accomplish a lot in life, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to leveraging the power of community. We need each other to thrive.
Independence is a gift. But like everything else in life, going to the extreme is counter effective. You don’t realize the value of independence, until you lose it, nor do you realize the gifts that come from engaging with others more and asking for help. Our culture values independence. We all gain when we shift our value to interdependence.
“Consider the following. We humans are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”
Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
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