By Suzanne Wiggins
As far back as I can remember I’ve been a master of self-sufficiency. For most of my life, I took great pride in this and believed it to be one of my best personal attributes. I have come to realize, however, there is a difference between knowing how to be self-reliant and being driven to live it as a lifestyle. It began innocently enough with a single childhood experience. A small seed that once planted, quickly grew into a life-long presumption that I must do everything for myself.
It all started when I was about 10 years old. We were shopping at Kmart and I fell hard for a $2.00 pair of royal blue sneakers. Imagine if you will, a pair of Converse low tops dyed blue, rubber and all. I had to have them. My mother, who worked hard and was extremely careful with money, was having none of it. She very seriously told me that if I wanted the shoes so bad, I should buy them myself. Being 10, I probably cried a little, but as we walked away I could not resign myself to not having those sneakers. The terms had been set. I knew what had to be done. So with focused determination, I set out to find two dollars.
I’m sure I started where we always did back then, searching the deep, crumb-filled crevasses of the living room furniture. No one really wanted to stick their hand in there so it was usually a good spot for finding spare change when things got desperate. Next, my mother kept a plastic container of pennies in her dresser drawer and that was another good source when my siblings and I were in dire need of financial resources. I’m sure a bit of my sneaker fund was “found” there. Some of it came from my resourcefulness and cheerful disposition. As a kid, I discovered that my parents’ friends, particularly those who stopped by to have a few beers with my dad, seemed to enjoy giving money away. I would sit by smiling cheerfully while the adults told stories and laughed until inevitably someone would reach in their pocket, pull out a quarter and hand it to me. Sometimes the quarters were offered as incentive to go away, but that was fine too since it was all for the cause of my sneakers. Finally, I was not above begging. My siblings were old enough to work so I hit them up and agreed to perform demeaning tasks in exchange for a bit of spare change. It took a while, but I bought those amazing royal blue sneakers and wore them until they were full of holes and eventually fell apart.
Fast forward several decades. I was enjoying a beer with a friend one day after work and he asked why I had never been married. It was definitely not the first time I’d been asked. I smiled sweetly and gave him my pat answer, “because no one has asked me.” He then made the observation, “well usually when a person wants something they find a way to make it happen.” Whoa, wait a minute. This person barely knew me and certainly had never heard the tale of the blue sneakers. His comment bothered me. It bothered me because I couldn’t stop thinking about it and found myself compelled to explore the idea further.
It took over a year and a lot of introspection, but I finally arrived at the ultimate revelation. I had never married because I didn’t know how to need someone. I slowly realized that my self-sufficiency had kept me from experiencing the joy of depending on someone; not because I needed to be taken care of, but because people want to take care of the ones they love. All those years I had mistakenly viewed depending on someone as a sign of weakness rather than an expression of love and caring. That was a painful discovery to make for someone who had viewed self-sufficiency as a virtue.
Recently, a co-worker who has had major neck surgery asked for help rearranging her office furniture. Being me, I gladly accepted the task. The desk and credenza needed to be moved to the opposite side of the room so I pushed and pulled over and over until the furniture was all in place. We quickly agreed that the new location wasn’t going to work so back to the other side of the office it went. When I gave the final push and the task was complete I proudly exclaimed, ‘Who needs a man?!” to which my co-worker sincerely replied, “I do.” Those two words hit me like a cold splash of water. There it was again, that subconscious belief that doing it myself was in some way superior to accepting help. And at that moment I realized, the biggest mountain I could ever move would be allowing someone to move it for me.