rejecting helplessness, embracing self-reliance

we’ve noticed something over the last few years: the higher up people get in their careers, they more they seem to embrace having a lot of help. it’s quite normal for executives to have assistants, help from the IT department, and a cadre of folks on speed dial who can help with anything from travel to child care. while this may seem like a great convenience, and this approach to life isn’t bad per se, it has a way of making people helpless.

recently, one of our companies had a big IT switchover from one system to another. and it turns out that most of the senior level folks didn’t even try to follow the very thorough instructions that the IT department had shared to do the switch on your own (it was actually pretty easy). as a result, they were off of email far longer than the staff who did it on their own and, as you’d guess, significantly more panicked. there is nothing else to call this besides helplessness. and even worse, it’s willful helplessness.

whatever happened to the virtue of self-reliance? are we missing something?

we see this in older generations, too. something about that myth that existed in the 80s, that vcrs (remember those?) were impossible to program. it became like the rallying cry of the baby boomer generation: a vcr is impossible to program, so why try with anything else? we see this all the time when folks in our parents’ generation treat new technology with fear, not curiosity.

disheartening as these examples are, we’re fortunate to have witnessed them, because they help cement our view that we need to act differently in our own lives. we’re sufficiently senior in our careers to have assistants and lots of help with things, but we’re determined to know how to do everything ourselves, even if we don’t always do it. and embracing new technology and platforms is critical. we plan to be retired for a long time, and we expect lots of changes will happen in that time in ways we can’t possibly imagine. we’ll be at a high risk of being isolated and having our knowledge quickly turn obsolete, because we’ll be out of the workforce. so embracing the new is essential. or even little things like knowing how to make home repairs or do our taxes feels to us like a bigger deal than most people acknowledge.

most of all, though, we see people’s willing embrace of helplessness as a sort of status symbol. it’s a sign of our times that people strive to have help with so many aspects of their lives. if you can afford to outsource some duty, why wouldn’t you?

but ultimately, where does that leave them? what do they really feel like they own? that they’ve accomplished? our desire to leave the rat race, to live with a different set of values, is in many ways our radical rejection of this idea of helplessness as good. we want to be totally accountable to ourselves, to be self-reliant. we want to live a life in which we’re in control of our destiny as much as possible (bad things can still happen, of course), and have no one to blame but ourselves.

that’s about a whole lot more than the mortgage we’re paying off, or the money we’re saving. it’s about more than quitting the jobs. it’s about rejecting what we think is wrong with society today, and embracing what we see as a future of bold possibility.

how are you striving to be more self-reliant?

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