I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable about receiving gifts. Ever since I was young, I found someone giving me something for free distasteful.
When I get a gift, I nearly always feel a little guilty, and more than a little obliged to repay the favour. Then I feel resentful about feeling obliged, like I owe them something I didn’t sign up for. And they almost never get me exactly what I want, so it feels like a waste.
The idea that they spent time and money on me, for no real reason, also bothers me. I don’t like that I haven’t earned it. This is one reason I don’t bother with the lottery – I want to earn my keep.
Some people aren’t this way, quite the opposite in fact. They love to get things for free, and feel no guilt whatsoever in being dependent on others. Winning the lottery is their highest dream.
But I’m not like that – neither are many of my clients.
And the deep, dark reason that we feel repulsed at the idea of receiving gifts is because it falls under the category of depending on others.
We see ourselves as independent, so being obliged to someone else, or having our needs met without doing anything toward it – such as the experience of receiving a gift – grinds our gears.
WHAT DOES INDEPENDENT MEAN?
For most people I speak with, independence means not relying on anyone else, for anything. It means freedom.
This is most commonly represented by financial security. People want to know how to make money. When someone says they value independence, they mean having enough money to not need anything from anyone. This makes career decision-making difficult, because money is always a huge factor.
For others, independence means freedom of choice. It means never having to ask permission, or work around someone else’s schedule. This makes relationships and careers difficult, because the only way to avoid working around others is to put yourself into complete isolation.
And for some, independence means power and control. It’s not just about being free to speak or act as you choose, but to influence others to fit you. You see this in presidents and dictators – the “my way or the highway” approach. Of course, this severely limits your ability to enjoy the uncontrollable, particularly in relationships, travel and learning.
Before we continue, think a bit about what independence means to you.
IS INDEPENDENCE EVEN POSSIBLE?
We need food and water, so we depend on grocery stores and municipal water supplies.
We depend on the local government for waste and garbage removal, road building, hospitals, economy, public transport, and on and on.
For all that fabulous lifestyle stuff we’re saving up for, we need pilots to fly planes, hotels to provide rooms, chefs to cook meals, and geeks to build laptops.
Few people live genuinely independent of support from others. And even those hippies, living in the jungle eating moss, still at one time relied on caregivers and teachers to build the knowledge required to live this way.
The only person who could be considered truly, objectively independent, would be a brand new baby who was completely neglected from birth.
So, we’re all dependent, to varying degrees. Yet, somewhere, we each draw a line and claim “This is what independence means for me.”
While pure independence is technically impossible, subjective independence is what each of us gift-haters are seeking. And when I dig into each of my clients to find out what this means – and how it relates to money – I come across similar themes.
If independence means financial security, they measure it in terms of whether they paid for it with their own earnings. If independence means freedom of choice, they measure it by having their visions manifest exactly as they had planned. And if independence means power and control, they measure it by how well they can influence others.
There are also some common factors.
All of us think anything received for free, without expectation of return, is a form of dependence. Especially if you really need that thing and can’t get it by yourself. We consider ourselves weak for not being able to buy, choose or control outcomes to meet our own needs.
There are also common limitations to the people we are allowed to depend on. These people must be “trustworthy.” It’s OK to rely on someone as long as they can be trusted to be reliable. We think “dependent” means having to rely on someone who shows a risk of fucking you over.
OK, SO WHAT IS INDEPENDENCE REALLY?
In reality; independence is an attempt to be free by putting yourself in prison.
When you’re independent, you cannot rely on anyone else if they’re untrustworthy, right? Well, because all humans are capable of being unpredictable (we’ve all been taught that lesson by now, am I right?), we can’t really rely on anyone.
So, if we want a job done right, we’re forced to do it ourselves. Not exactly freedom, is it?
We can imagine independence being possible, and even believe these fantasies, but we will always need our fellow humans to survive. Hey, that money doesn’t come out of thin air, right? Someone must give up some of theirs for you to have yours. The same applies to food, water, hospital beds, clothing and more.
We cannot survive without resources, and we cannot get all our resources without relying on the tribe.
You think if you’re a millionaire, an entrepreneur or a celebrity, this will no longer apply to you. You think stockpiling money, options and power will protect you. But these acquisitions do not keep people out of hospital, prison or divorce court. Money only goes so far.
BUT INDEPENDENCE WAS GOOD FOR ME… WASN’T IT?
Yeah, it did help. At first.
Seeking independence motivated me to get my driving licence, complete my degree in psychology, start my own business so I could work from home, and learn how to socialize. It was a driving force that caused me to be obsessed with whatever I thought could free me from depending on others.
Seeking independence is a natural and necessary learning curve for children as they grow up. This is the rebellion you see in teenagers; the normal boundary-testing designed to become self-sufficient.
But it comes at a price if you confuse independence with freedom. While I became increasingly independent as my life continued, as I reached my early twenties my freedom actually began to decrease over time.
Was that the case for you? Do you feel you were more free as a dependent child than you are as a responsible adult?
Because I couldn’t allow myself to rely on others, I had to do everything myself, including the tasks that did not enhance my life or my work, but needed to be done.
I built my own website, because I didn’t want some programmer having control over my business. This cost me dozens of hours to do something I hated, and I just ended up with a shitty result.
I resisted advice sometimes when dancing, whenever I felt I couldn’t “trust” the advice-giver, even when it was excellent feedback.
I missed out on travel opportunities because I was too prideful to ask for a free place to stay.
I missed out on enjoying life because I worried about how spending money now would affect my future.
Stubbornly clinging to my childhood drive to be independent for too long began restricting my options, filling me with stress, and slowing down my rate of progress.
“To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.” – African Proverb
SO WHAT, I SHOULD JUST BE A DEPENDENT LITTLE BITCH?
In working with clients – and myself – around this issue, I’ve come to realize that seeking a subjective independence can still be helpful, as long as you moderate it.
Being a dependent victim – fully relying on everyone else to take care of you – is probably even more harmful than refusing any assistance at all. Yet both ends of this spectrum are less than ideal.
You need to get off this spectrum altogether.
There are 3 aspects to consider, if you want to move out of the prison of attempting to be independent, and move forward into genuine adult freedom.
1) Adaptability and Resourcefulness, rather than stockpiling
If you’re worried about money now, you’ll still worry about it later – the hoarding won’t stop. You’ll never get to enjoy your riches properly.
Instead of trying to get to a point where you don’t need to make any more money (“financial independence”), turn your aim on becoming resourceful and adaptable. Money is just a resource you can use to enjoy life, it is not a source of enjoyment.
Remember MacGyver? He could take three leaves, a rubber band, an old shoe, and somehow build a functional motor vehicle from them.
MacGyver wouldn’t stockpile resources for an imagined future that will never happen. MacGyver would instead go into any situation empty-handed, forever increasing his ability to create something from nothing.
This ability provides far more independence and freedom than saving cash ever will.
Remember Greece? The banks and government took everyone’s money. Only the people well-versed in building something from nothing would have thrived in that situation.
Aim to become skilled and resourceful, rather than hoarding and isolated. Focus on learning to build, rather than trying to keep.
2) Leadership rather than control
When you can create a team or tribe who follows your lead, yet can function without you, you have a long-lasting and reliable support system.
A team who cannot survive without you is doomed. Your constant hoarding of all the good work will lead them to become inexperienced, bored and bitter; more likely to give you up to a challenging alpha.
A team that sees you as a source of respect – because you delegate the more challenging and exciting work – will have your back.
This doesn’t just apply to management. Your “team” includes your family and friends. Let them help you and influence you. Let them affect the important things in your life. Listen to their advice, even if you choose not to follow all of it. You will give them feelings of respect, meaning and a sense of giving. They will love you for it.
Just make sure you’d be willing to reciprocate and protect them. You can still work on yourself to ensure that you’ll survive if they turn against you and abandon you. But combine this with learning how to build and lead a team.
Fuck being an independent lone wolf; learn to be a wolf-pack creator and leader.
3) Completion rather than perfection
Perfectionism goes hand-in-hand with independence.
But “perfectionism” is a misnomer. What it really means is that you’ll only do something if you’re sure you can do it – without help and to a high standard. You’ll procrastinate and bail on anything more intimidating.
Perfectionism also means you stress yourself out with a massive task list, because you won’t delegate or allow unimportant shit to “go wrong.” You end up doing nothing perfectly, or even to a very high standard, instead you’ll frequently produce average work because you’re unfocused, non-committal, and stressfully obsessed (rather than truly passionate).
Instead, aim to get the important shit done – first, and by any means necessary. Get the help you need. Pay the experts to do what they do better than you. Cut the pointless time-wasters from your task-list and forget they ever existed.
Yes, you might be a little late on replying to low-level emails. Yes, your dishes might pile up in the sink sometimes. Yes, people you might let you down and be disappointing.
But, most of the time, you’ll get the meaningful shit done, and done well. Solving problems efficiently is a key factor in freedom.
AIM FOR FREEDOM
Rather than seeking independence, seek freedom.
Freedom from pointlessly high standards. Freedom from stubbornness and ego. Freedom from quantity of work. Freedom from insecure attachments to money. Freedom from your unwinnable war against an imagined authority that never controlled you anyway.
Let yourself receive the resources people have to offer, even when it’s free. Give back if it makes you feel better.
Train yourself to be capable, in case you need to spend some time without support, but utilise support whenever you can, in a way that improves the lives of your supporters. Become a person who makes the most of any situation, rather than someone who tries to control every situation.