5 Takeaways from Self-Reliance

When there’s nothing physical books lying around, I started to find freebies online. Yes, I’m that cheap and I try not to be a purist who only sticks to “real” books, although I prefer tangible books any other day.

So I settled for this free PDF of Self-Reliance by the great Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Truth be told, it was not an easy read. There are a bunch of fancy vocabularies and structures, but likewise there’s also a lot of good stuffs in there. It’s like a bible to the non-conformist in you.

Here’s my takeaways, I hope it’s of help.

1. On what it means to be authentic, doing things for oneself, not for others’ validation (and how hard it is):

“My life is for itself and not for a spectacle […] What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. […] It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

2. On how conforming to society “standard” that one finds irrelevant will diminish one’s own character:

“The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is, that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character.”

3. On how one should be like Nature, existing for what one is:

“Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say “I think,” “I am,” but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.”

4. On keeping true to yourself and others and how it’s necessary to let go of people who are “not in the same truth” with you:

“I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. […] You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last. But so you may give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility.”

5. On how traveling is not the means to cure sadness and how anxiety will follow you even to the most beautiful places (similar to this article in The Philosophers’ Mail and Pico Iyer’s TED talk)

“Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.”

One-liner bonus: