Insist On Yourself; Never Imitate: Emerson On Self-Reliance
“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance
Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you? Have you read Self-Reliance? Ralph Waldo Emerson – (1803-1882) was a U.S. philosopher, poet, and essayist whose treatise on – Self-Reliance – offers the quote above and a lot more. Known as an outspoken leader of the mid-19th century Transcendentalist movement, Emerson was a fierce champion of individualism and was respected for his philosophical essays and critical writings on what he called “The countervailing pressures of society.” The quote above, “Insist on yourself; never imitate…” is one of my all time favorite quotes and one you see on the first page of this blog. To appreciate the beauty and powerful insights of Emerson’s essay, you will need to take some time to read it. There are many pithy nuggets of wisdom in Self Reliance; a 58 page discourse on what it means to develop self-reliance and trust, in our own abilities and skills, in a pressure driven world.
I remember reading Emerson’s essay back in High School, and marveling at his brilliant meanderings through philosophical social, spiritual, individual, economic and moral assertions, while exhorting us to trust ourselves, honor our humanity and divinity, and banish our desire for imitation. Imitation was anathema to Emerson and he considered it a form of creative and character suicide. Can we learn from each other without becoming clones of the people we revere? Sure. True growth comes from taking the best from what we’ve learned and carving out our own path. Only puppets should repeat everything they are taught/told verbatim. Self Reliance nudges us to dig deep for the brilliance that is in each of us … and let our light be brilliant too. The language might strike you as somewhat archaic but, trust me, the message is vital, timely and as current as can be. I promise that reading it would give you much to reflect on about your life, attitude and expectations. I turn to it because it is a terrific reminder that fulfilling our own destiny demands that we stay true to who we are, and nurture our talents and skills to the best of our ability. It is, in simple terms, a call to DO YOU!
“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” Ralph Waldo Emerson on Self-Reliance
“Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long that they have come to esteem the religious, learned and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on property. They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
Do you TRUST yourself and your own gifts and skills? To develop self-reliance, we must learn to trust ourselves and our own instincts. Many of us go through life trying to be like someone else or trying to imitate someone we admire. It is fine to admire great people but, you must stay true to your own inner impulses and develop your talents instead of copying everyone and everything that flashes in front of you. Some of us are afraid of our own voice so we become great imitators of others. Why? Because we are afraid to speak our own truth for fear of public criticism or derision. Some of us would rather regurgitate what brings in XY instead of following what truly calls our heart. We are all familiar with the saying: “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.” However, don’t let it become a crutch that stands in the way of your own creative voice and actions. I would say, imitation is flattery up to a point, then you must find yourself and your own path. Where are you falling short on the above dictum? How can we learn to stay on course even in the face of misunderstanding? Read Self-Reliance and contemplate what stands in your way…. Fear is a big one but, we can work to overcome it. What else?
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” Ralph Waldo Emerson on Self Reliance
“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
How do you know when you are on the right track? In addition to the daily demands we experience in the world, we are constantly faced with the expectations others have of us and our choices. As much as we’d love to stay true to who we are and remain centered on our own passions, we get distracted by our fears, our petty jealousies/envy, and our desires to be like X. Remember what Emerson says about that? “Envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide.” Unless we have the understanding and peace within to stay focused on our own goals, to be present and work on our tasks, no matter how small, we will develop doubts and allow things to throw us off. Make choices that resonate with your spirit and that allow you to share your interests and passions. To everyone, I’d say: Insist On Yourself; Never Imitate, Be at Peace with yourself … and let your spirit shine through. What are you so frightened of? Do you imagine your goals as originating from a place of peace within? Stay true to YOU!
This post was inspired by a prompt from WP Daily Post: Quote Me – Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?
Positive Motivation Tip: Follow your own pathway and develop a fearlessness that makes you proud. You are your own best work.