There Is No Such Thing as “Self-Made”

Why do I insist on doing things on my own? Why do I refuse the help and support of others for the sake of independence? A good argument can be made for personal growth and learning, to an extent. Sometimes it is truly beneficial to struggle alone for a while to achieve some kind of breakthrough or revelation. However, it seems to me that more often than not, I am too quick to adopt lone wolf status and resolve to do things by myself. I allow ego to decide that I don’t need anyone else’s help, because to accept help would be to admit deficiency or shortcoming.

I often find myself thinking about overcoming obstacles, facing challenges, and solving problems in terms of ‘Me vs. ___.’ But what about ‘We vs. ___?’ Or ‘Us vs. ___?” Why not make it the team’s problem to solve? My friends’ challenge to face? My family’s obstacle to overcome? Instead, I am inclined to dismiss collaboration and insist upon shouldering the burden myself and going it alone.

Maybe it’s because—on some subconscious level—I feel I have something to prove. To myself, to my family, to my friends, to the world. Is it to prove that I am strong, worthy, capable, independent, undeterred by challenge? That I am in some way a superior being to my ancestors before me who got by with a tremendous amount of help and are the only reason I am here today? Maybe it’s because I am afraid I will be judged as stupid or incapable if I ask for help. For some reason a part of me thinks that admitting I need help and asking for it makes me weak or dumb or incompetent.

There is no such thing as “self-made.” The truth is that everyone gets help. If you got any kind of education you had help. If you were born in a hospital you had help. If you were orphaned and raised by wolves—I am sorry and also impressed—guess what? You still had help. I am not a self-made anything, and neither are you. Everything I am and everything I have accomplished or overcome is the result, directly or indirectly, of the collaborative effort of many people.

Help comes in different shapes and sizes. Some types of help are easier to ask for than others. When I’ve needed to learn something, I sought teachers and coaches. When I was feeling lost and needed advice, I leaned on family and friends. When I’ve needed to escape or understand, I looked to books written by authors trying to do the same. When I was injured or ill, I sought the help of trained physicians. During especially challenging times, when I’ve struggled with mental health and anxiety, I turned to the help of a therapist. I did not achieve anything on my own. I had parents, a sister, friends, teammates, teachers, coaches, mentors, bosses, doctors, and even authors there to help me every single step of the way.

And yet, there are times when I still find myself feeling ashamed to ask for help or admit that I need it. The messier life gets, the more internally focused I become, the harder it is to turn outward for help. I still feel slightly uncomfortable writing this with the intent for others to read it. I still feel the need to show the world—even those closest to me—how strong and capable and independent I am.

But I am here to admit something: I am human, I am flawed, I am vulnerable, and I need a lot of help. If you’re reading this, you’re probably human too—and you should consider thanking whoever helped you learn to read. You are not self-made. You didn’t get here on your own. And here’s the big one: behind every single person who has helped you is a whole team of people who helped them. Consider how many people you have helped in some way, small or large, over the course of your lifetime. Try to count them on two hands. I bet you don’t have even close to enough fingers—or toes—to count the people you have helped this week alone.

We all need help. We all got to where we are with a tremendous amount of it. As a species we evolved to work together, lending a hand where we can or reaching for the one that is outstretched in our time of need. Remarkably, we are that much stronger, more capable, and independent because of it.

I am here to tell you, in this new blog of mine, that it is okay—expected, even—to ask for help. And if there’s something you don’t need help with, I hope that you will offer yours to someone who needs it, because nobody can do this solo.

You are not self-made, and neither is anybody else. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it.


Am I wrong about something? Did I miss anything? Do you agree? Disagree? Have questions or critiques? Post your response in the Comments section below.


Special thanks to Noah Evans, Caroline Buzzard, and Daniel Fisher for their help in communicating my thoughts.

Thank you to my friends and family for their encouragement in the launching of this space, and to Rhys Parry for his help with launching this site.

2 Comments

  1. Hello Kallman,

    I like to think of this issue like a cruise ship. We can make our way about the ship but we ultimately do not decide where it is going. The people in our lives are the ones collectively steering the ship, while we do our best to navigate onboard. Agency in life is really a balance between the environment that surrounds us and our own personal resolve. Each deeply connected to the other.

    I really enjoyed reading your insights on this topic and find commonality in many of the experiences you shared. It is a good reminder to be grateful for those who we love and to appreciate their presence in our lives.

    I look forward to your future posts! 😊

  2. I’m 54 and it’s still hard for me to ask for help. Constant work in progress. Thanks for sharing your insight, I look forward to reading more!

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