I’ve heard that sentiment many times over the course of my life, but I have sometimes found it hard to know what to do about those words.
I am an independent woman, and I was also an independent little girl.
An only child who was home-schooled all the way from kindergarten to my senior year of high school, I learned early on that it was I who was responsible for any mistakes I made. I couldn’t blame unruly classmates if I were to flunk a test or fail to pay attention during a lesson.
On the flipside, I felt I could take pride in my successes because I knew it was my hard work that had made the difference. My good grades were the result of how well I had studied — not how a bell curve grading scale had skewed my classmates’ grades in my favor.
My academic life taught me a great lesson I hope to always remember. At the end of the day, I am largely responsible for my own successes and failures.
Still, there are days when everyone needs a little bit of help. It is on those days that we need to remember that we are not “islands” with lives completely separate from those of everyone around us.
During my junior year of high school, I began taking classes as a dual enrollment student at Lee University.
One semester, I took a lab science course at the college. Everything went well for me — until it was time to do work in the lab.
Though a college math class was not a required prerequisite for the science class, it turned out that we were expected to use mathematical concepts I hadn’t learned yet in my high school-level work.
My assigned lab partner for the semester was a Godsend. He happened to be studying to become a math teacher and was patient enough to explain the concepts to me while we worked.
Because of my willingness to admit that I did not know how to work through the calculations and his willingness to help me, we both succeeded in the assignments we completed together. Most of them were marked with red-inked A’s.
Your hard work does make a difference in how you succeed, but sometimes you also need a bit of help to get to where you want to be.
My goals were not as lofty then. I just wanted to finish high school and get accepted into a four-year college; I was not thinking of what I wanted my career to be. But the successes I did see during that time helped me learn to dream bigger.
I learned that I was not an island. There were other people who could help me if I reached the limits of what I knew how to accomplish on my own.
Dreaming was one thing, but realizing that others could help me compensate for my weaknesses so I could better work toward those lofty goals was definitely another.
Though I still have to remind myself to surround myself with others, it is a lesson I hope to keep with me for the remainder of my life.
I am not an island, and neither are you.
It is deceptively easy to just focus on what you can do on your own.
American culture encourages independence in its citizens — as one would rightly expect from “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Many children in this country grow up being told they can do anything if they work hard enough. It is “the American dream.”
Ambition is wonderful because it means someone has been inspired to work toward something they really want to achieve.
The crazy thing about ambition is that it also has a dangerous side. It can fool one into thinking they can handle everything on their own.
The key is to strike a balance somewhere between extreme ambition and wanting to only do what others have done so far.
That balance is elusive, but it is worth trying to find.
Strive for great things, but don’t let your ambition take over your life to the point that you neglect your relationships with people around you.
Even when your dreams seem unattainable, seek help from those who have made progress toward their own dreams.
We may all have different ideas and dreams, but there are commonalities among us. We all have our own dreams, and none of us is perfect.
When things go wrong is when we can be glad that none of us is truly island-like.