They say the 4th of July is Independence Day. Well, that’s dependent upon who you ask. Some may say it’s America’s birthday, others might quip that it’s a celebration of colonialist oppression and quite a few folks wouldn’t care either way as long as they get a day off for brews and brats.
But, for me, the 4th of July took on new meaning this year for reasons I wouldn’t really understand until after the holiday. Life has a way of shoring up things that way.
You see, even as a child I had issues asking for help from others. For some reason, I gleaned some odd message that being a “grown up” meant being 100% independent, always able to take care of everything on your own with very little-to-no help from others.
Boy, was I wrong. And I slowly learned that as time went on.
I was that kid in class who would wait for ages before raising his hand if I got stuck on a math problem, because I wanted my teachers to think I had it all under control. I could have sure used the help, but didn’t want to feel like I needed it. And there were times when that backfired, and I got a few points off an assignment or test simply because I was too proud to ask a few questions.
The budding perfectionist in me got over that slowly but surely with instructors, especially since they are there to teach students. But I only let my guard down because I wanted to get a perfect score or very close. That’s progress, to some degree, but my reasoning was a bit skewed.
Then I remember the time I stayed with one of my uncles for a weekend so I could play video games and hang out with my cousin. I had my $10 allowance money with me (I must’ve been 7 or 8 at the time) when we went to the grocery store, and I wanted to buy just a little bit of candy. Although my uncle kindly offered to handle the small expense, but nooooo, I wanted to use my allowance.
And he got really annoyed with me, though he just went ahead and paid for it despite my small protest. During the car ride to his house, I got told “about myself” (translation: he was giving me some ‘real talk’) when he started getting a bit sassy and quipped: “You think I can’t pay for that candy you wanted? You don’t have to act all independent and keep to yourself all the damn time.”
I just retreated because I figured, “hey, he’ll fuss at me but I still keep my allowance money and I can buy myself something else later, with no one’s help.”
But I forgot just one thing at that time, and didn’t think of it: I didn’t earn that $10 from going to work and making a living. I got that $10 from dear old dad. I actually was being helped, and I wasn’t so independent after all.
And as time went on and I experienced a learning curve in maturity, self-awareness and empathy, I realized that this hang-up was about more than the tic tacs and peppermint patty I wanted to pay for with my own $10. It was about a fleeting sense of pride and a desire not to feel vulnerable.
I’ve been slowly but surely transitioning from college life to entering the workforce over the past month, so you might imagine it was a bummer to have my car go out on me while hanging out with friends just a few days before the 4th. It conked out just as we were about to go on a little adventure, so we got sidelined a bit. I was about 20 miles away from home, a few blocks away from my friend’s place and had to arrange a tow to the mechanic the next morning.
And so I found myself hopelessly at the mercy of my friends’ and family’s schedules and kindness. But I shouldn’t have felt so conflicted about needing the help from people who care, especially since I was raised to be kind and extend that to others when possible. I’m not a needy friend, and I openly return the favor whenever I can. It’s even easier when helping someone who helps themselves, but just needs a little something extra to push them along.
What I experienced this past holiday made me realize that I’ve largely grown out of being embarrassed to seek help when needed. It took time to realize that one cannot ever really be 100% independent. At some point, on some level, we’ll need the help of others and always will. We’ll need a mechanic to fix our car. We’ll need a sales clerk to locate a CD we couldn’t find inside Barnes & Noble. We’ll need a friend to help us lift boxes when we move. And, if we’re blessed to see old age, we may need a kind person to help us with tasks that seemed trivial.
From here on out, I won’t pride myself in being so independent, rather opting to take solace in being interdependent.
‘Cause even the most independent person can get by with a little help from their friends.