From the time I was a child, I wanted to do everything all on my own.
“I’ll do it,” was my constant refrain, pushing away helping hands and generous offers with my young, eager fingers. I’ll make my own lunch. I’ll walk myself to the bus stop. I’ll complete the project or task without input from the rest of the group.
I’ve always been the person who thinks that they can go it alone – no matter how much I enjoy and relish in the company of others (and I very much do). It wasn’t a product of introversion so much as a point of pride. And not much changed when I reached adulthood.
While traveling, if I wanted to hike but everyone else wanted to go to the beach, that was fine: I’d hike alone. If a job needed to be done at work and nobody else was going to step up and do it, that was fine: I’d take responsibility. If a partner didn’t want the same things that I wanted for the future, then okay: I’d go my own way. It was fine. I could do it all alone. That had always been my mantra.
But here’s the thing about looking at life in this light: the illusion of complete independence breaks down at some point. Because when you’re younger, you think you’re doing it all alone, but you aren’t.
Your parents are watching you walk to that bus stop. Your mom is slipping carrots into your lunchbox. Your group members are going to the teacher and complaining that you won’t let them contribute and you end up with a slightly stern lecture on teamwork. You get told that they teach you teamwork in school for a reason: because it’s important in the adult world. Because it’s necessary. Because it’s a skill that you need in order to survive.
You scoff those words off as a child. But the older you get, the more you realize just how true they are.
Independent children grow into proud adults. And proud adults like to believe that they can take on the whole world. That they can appreciate help, but reject it. That they can be stressed out, but still get the job done. That they can love people, but keep them at arm’s length. They have a set of internal scripts memorized that repeat, “You’ve got this. You can do this. You don’t need help from anyone else.”
But those scripts are wrong. And some part of you, buried so far down inside of you that you refuse to ever give it a voice, knows that.
You just can’t.
It’s not within our human nature to be capable of tackling every problem, every situation, every dilemma we come across entirely on our own. It doesn’t matter how strong, smart, capable, confident or successful you are. We need each other. We were built to work together, to struggle together, to help each other move toward solutions and come out on the other side united.
Individually, we can be strong. We can be successful. We can be mountains, who rise above a seemingly infinite number of challenges. But we cannot be our own communities. Our own friends. Our own parents or teachers or lovers. No matter what we would like to believe about our own strength and ability, our worlds are always going to be that much smaller without other people in them. Our lives are always going to be flatter, duller, sadder and lonelier without the differing perspectives and fascinating mindsets of other people.
There’s a sign that hangs on the wall of my gym that reads, “None of us are as strong as all of us.” And after years of walking past it, its message is finally starting to sink in. Yes, we can all be strong on our own. We can all be capable on our own. But we’re never going to be as strong as we are when we accept other people into our lives.
Because the greatest, strongest, most capable people don’t reject help when they know they need it. They don’t deny themselves human interaction on principle. They know their own weaknesses. Their own shortcomings. Their own needs.
And the older we get, the more we realize the help that we’ve accepted all along. The influence others have had in our lives, even during the times when we assumed we were ‘going it alone.’
We are never alone as we think we are.
And that’s a good thing.
Because together, we will always be more than the sum of our parts.
And the strongest people know exactly that.