Learn to Depend on Yourself
When I look back at some of the hardest moments of my life, I see a common thread: I always hoped that someone else would come along with the solutions to my problems.
In fact, I didn’t just hope, I expected this person or people to appear. I assumed that I just tried hard enough, all while waiting impatiently, sooner or later everything would work out the way I wanted.
It’s not good to assume, but it’s even worse to expect. Unmet expectations are the source of unending disappointment.
I remember being in grad school, struggling to stand out while chafing against rules and requirements. I knew I could do something great! But it wasn’t working.
“You’re a good student” was how one professor put it when I asked for a recommendation letter, and he didn’t mean it as a compliment. Being a good student means you aren’t an excellent one, or even particularly memorable at all. Years later, I still recall how it felt to hear that!
He was right in some ways: I wasn’t cut out for academia. Much of my time and energy there was spent trying to get the right people to like me, also known as approval-seeking.
All I needed was for someone to notice and be impressed with me. How hard could it be?
In making this my priority, I became far too dependent on external opinions and circumstances. I left grad school with a Master’s degree but not the Ph.D. I’d originally intended.
A few years later in another phase of life, I remember trying to make someone care for me the way I cared for them. Again, I told myself I just had to wait it out, do everything right, and at the right moment, everything would turn out just as I’d imagined.
Guess what! It never did. I kept trying and kept failing. Desperate times lead to desperate measures, but sometimes those measures lead to … nothing at all. (See: expectations, disappointment.)
Once again I’d allowed myself to be deceived into thinking that the answer was outside myself.
Throughout all these misadventures (and more!), I kept assuming that the situation would get better on its own. I simply needed someone to validate my abilities, to recognize whatever qualities I valued most at the time.
I just want the right publisher to give me the big book deal.
Surely the person who hurt me will apologize any day now.
If I wait long enough, the one who disappeared will come back.
The problem, of course, is that people tend to think mostly of themselves. They don’t live their lives with the mission of giving you what you think you need.
Recognizing this common pattern helped me realize the obvious solution: to stop looking to others for validation, and to stop being so codependent.
This is easier said than done, of course. Sometimes you don’t arrive at the realization you need until the last possible moment—or maybe that’s just me.
If you’ve ever felt this way, carefully read the notes in the next section.
Depend On Yourself
Within yourself lies the ability to solve any problem you encounter.
This basic truth is deceptively simple: easy to learn, hard to master. It doesn’t come naturally, yet it can change your life forever once you understand and internalize it.
Let’s assume you’re a responsible person, and you already depend on yourself for lots of things. You’ve been through hard times, licked your wounds, and learned lessons.
But if you’re like most people, you also trust that other people are looking out for you somehow. There’s a system, there are institutions, there is such a thing as order. Any of these things, seen or unseen, can protect you when something goes wrong.
And sometimes that happens! Problems can work themselves out on their own. But plenty of other times, they don’t.
If you look for outside acceptance, sooner or later you’ll end up being disappointed. Worst case scenario: if you keep waiting for a lifeboat, eventually you’ll drown.
Once you realize no one is coming to save you, you might go through a period of shock. I get it, it’s a hard truth to accept! So go ahead, grieve a little. Mourn the loss of the false belief that someone else will solve this for you.
But then, once you’re ready to move on—get excited, because much better days are ahead.
What Lies Beyond
You just have to see it through—but what you find on the other side is something even better than those unmet expectations.
Now you have the chance to depend on yourself. After all, you are the most important person you know. Without you, there is no lived experience. Without you, there is nothing at all.
You might love greatly, you might even be willing to die for someone else. But in the end, you are the most important person in your world—so you must learn to depend on yourself.