Self-Reliance

by Ralph Waldo Emerson | 88 pages

Ralph Waldo Emerson. He’s the great-great-grandfather in my spiritual family tree. We named our son Emerson after this great 19th century philosopher and when I imagine the heroes whose qualities I want to emulate, he’s on the top of the list. Big Ideas we explore include: Trust thyself (every heart vibrates to that iron string!), nonconformity (and the integrity of your own mind), what must you do? (vs. what will they think?), Hobgoblins (begone), your voyage (of a thousand zigs and zags), and the Royal You (act like that now!).


“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 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. …

We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. … God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson from Self-Reliance

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He’s the great-great-grandfather in my spiritual family tree.

As you may know, we named our son Emerson after this great 19th century philosopher and when I imagine the heroes whose qualities I want to emulate, he’s on the top of the list—right alongside Epictetus and Joseph Campbell and Steve Jobs when I’m in a “make a dent in the universe” kinda mood. (More on that in this +1: You As Your Three Heroes.)

We already have a Note on his Selected Writings (which I created nearly 10 years ago) but I’ve read this particular essay so many times that, as I was reading it for the I-don’t-know-manyth time I figured we should create a Note on it. And, here we are.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it online for free (like here) or you can get a copy of Seth Godin’s Domino Project version here.

If you’re looking to live heroically, learn how to trust yourSelf and move beyond the typical conformity of society, I think it’s a must read.

I could literally comment on the whole thing. But, alas, we’ll constrain ourselves to these six pages and a handful of my favorite Big Ideas!

btw: I’m creating this on January 4th, 2018. Almost exactly 10 years ago, on January 2nd, 2008 Alexandra and I were returning from a trip to India and Thailand via New Year’s Eve in Tokyo when I opened the SkyMall brochure to a 2-page ad for a company that creates summaries of business books “for busy executives.” I had the idea that someone should do the same thing for self-development books “for busy self-actualizers.” Then I had the thought that that someone should be me. And, PhilosophersNotes was born.

So, I find it particularly appropriate to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the birth of PhilosophersNotes with a reflection on Emerson’s transcendent wisdom.

With THAT, let’s jump straight in! :)

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About the author

Authors

Ralph Waldo Emerson

a leading figure of the Transcendentalist movement