Independence Day

Alone is a TV show that’s aired on the History Channel. It takes ten intrepid survivalists and places them solo in remote parts of the world to see who can live alone the longest. It has just started its tenth season and has participants seeking to survive on their own deep in the North of Saskatchewan. Contestants are given some basic kit and then are afforded the opportunity to choose ten items from a list of forty. These are the items they have when they are dropped off to their sites. It’s up to them to provide shelter and sustenance. If they can’t forage, gather, catch, kill, clean, and cook, they’re toast. It’s them, their personal resources and some cameras which they use to show their skills. Many of the contestants are professional guides or hunters. Others are homesteaders and hippies that are used to living off the land. Others are just outdoor enthusiasts. Their love of nature and deep desire to be self-reliant draws them to this challenge. As amazing as all of these contestants are across seasons, none is able to be independent alone forever. I believe the longest any season winner has gone is less than 100 days.

As our American friends approach their Independence weekend, others of us may have just had kids graduating from high school or University in recent months. As they move forward, do they have a sense of what independence looks like? Do you, as a parent, have a sense of what independence is? What are the chances that your child’s definition and yours of independence overlaps fully?

If you’ve had the fortune of being in a position to pay for your child’s University education, for example, and they spent a year or more going to school away from home, have they been living independently? Sure, they’ve been making their own decisions, choosing their own classes, making their own meals, determining when, whether, and how to clean where they live. But is this independence where they haven’t been bearing responsibility for footing the bill for their lifestyle? Independence is more than living on your own and choosing how to spend your time. How about, if a child lives at home and works nearby, are they independent? They have the means to pay some bills. Perhaps, paying for a cell phone, their own vehicle, clothes, entertainment, even food all with their own resources. Again, the child may view their existence as one of independence. They are paying their own way, they think. Mom and Dad likely think otherwise.

As US Senator, Josh Hawley, writes in his recently released book, Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, “You can’t be free if someone else pays your bills. You can’t be free if someone else controls your livelihood, especially if that someone else is the government. You can’t be free if you don’t work. Why not? Because if someone else controls your livelihood, he controls you.” What, then does independence involve? What does it mean to stand on your own two feet? Former US President Calvin Coolidge observed, “There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no one independence quite so important, as living within your means.” Yes, paying your own way and supporting yourself is impressive and offers a baseline for what constitutes independence.

David Gilmore, an anthropologist, studied dozens of cultures from the perspective of trying to understand how the transition from childhood to adulthood was marked. His conclusion? When a member of a family, tribe, or community produces more than they consume this was the marker of adulthood. This can be thought of as a deeper definition of independence. When we consume more than we produce, we’re dependent on those that produce. When we produce more than we consume, we’re contributing to others. We’re now adding value to the community in excess of what we’re taking out.

Thinking about independence over the years as I’ve watched our sons grow up, it strikes me that independence is only achieved when three separate criteria are satisfied.

  1. You’re living on your own.
  2. You’re paying your own way.
  3. Your net worth exceeds what you’ve been given.

Viewing independence from these three components fosters a fuller perspective of what it takes to truly be independent.

If you’ve been given the equivalent of $15,000 a year to live at and attend University for four years, yes, you may have earned your degree. Yes, you may now be living on your own and paying your own way with the job you were hired for based on your efforts at achieving a degree. Congratulations. However, you’re not independent until your net worth exceeds the $60,000 support you received to earn that education. This can take some time. Years, decades, even after you received the help. This isn’t to deny your contributions to the place you’ve earned in life so far. Nor is it to suggest support isn’t a nice thing to be able to give and receive. It’s simply to suggest that where we are isn’t exclusively the result of what we’ve contributed. We’re beneficiaries in many ways of the generosity of others. That generosity gives us incredible advantages for which we should be deeply grateful.

Maybe you haven’t been given a bunch of financial support, but were afforded encouragement and life lessons from people close to you? Do you find yourself working harder, persisting based on the encouragement received? Have you endured because you didn’t want to let others down? If so, maybe the encouragement and advice are like some things Mastercard suggests and is “priceless.” Again, wherever we end up and whatever we’re able to achieve, some part of our success is based on the support we have received from others. Accepting that independence may be harder to achieve than we thought, we may be both humbled and grateful for any support given. No matter who you become or whatever you achieve, in some part it is due to the gifts you’ve been given. Perhaps we’re more willing to pause and better appreciate the gifts we’ve been given realizing that what we have isn’t all because of our own amazingness. Considering these three components helps us have humility about who we are and how we got here.

This conceptualization of independence can also help parents as it may give us pause prior to doing more to help our children. Our gifts, as well-intended as they may be, to help our children get established may be seen instead as weights adding to their dependence. The more we do for our children, the less independent we’re making them. The more help we offer as they enter adulthood is just like continuing to tie their shoelaces when their venturing off to pre-school. Without giving them the tools to help themselves, we’re breeding weakness not strength. Consider chewing on the mantra, “I fail you when I make things easy for you.”

Independence isn’t something that can be given. It, like all worthwhile things in life must be earned. It feels good to have self-respect and personal pride. If you believe this, then the last thing you want is a free ride. Best to bet on and upon yourself to rely. Then, at the end of the day, you’ll know your best you tried. We value more what we’ve earned than what we’ve been given. It’s tough to own a gift. To truly own something, we must have done the work to obtain it and bear the responsibility to maintain it. Though we can’t own a gift. We can honor gifts received.

If we embrace a thought from Willie Nelson that offered, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around,” we’ll start to see how others have contributed to helping us find our way. Seek to take stock and you’ll find out that you’ve been given a lot. You’ll better come to see how much you have to be grateful. You’ll learn it’s not a drag to be a hag. Humble And Grateful is what you’ll become as you consider the gifts you’ve been given.

As you find yourself in this position lean on advice from James Allen, “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” First, brainstorm as widely as possible the support you’ve received over the years. Whether it be encouragement, a good role model, life lessons, or financial support, write it all down. Then, make time to thank those in some way whether by email, text, phone, in person, or any other way for the support provided. The best ways to honor the gifts given is through gratitude coupled with striving to become truly independent. From there, pay it forward and try to encourage others to find their independence.

Author Morgan Housel offers an alternate view of evaluating one’s independence. In this blog post, Housel presents a 15 stage continuum to consider for ourselves or others related to assessing financial independence. However you choose to define it, independence is something to which we should be striving towards as well as encouraging others to pursue. Here’s to celebrating your own Independence Day.