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The Self Sufficiency Trap

Written by Rebecca Okamoto on July 13, 2014

"No man is an island, entire of itself."
John Donne

I like being self sufficient.

Self sufficiency signals resourcefulness, independence and expertise.

Early in my career I focused on building my mastery, earning credibility and gaining the confidence to be “self sufficient.” I was in constant learning mode. I networked extensively and took on stretching assignments. I spent most of the time well outside of my comfort zone, and I built a reputation of problem solving.

I became “self sufficient.”

Over time, I earned the status of a "go to" person, and more people came to me for help than gave me help. The more successful I became, the more "self sufficient” I became.

And more isolated.

As my status grew, the harder it was to admit that I didn’t know something. People stopped offering to help assuming I could figure it out on my own. The more "self sufficient" I became, the less I networked. And the less I learned.

Then at the very height of my “self sufficiency” and career success, I had an unexpected change that changed everything. Suddenly I was the one who needed help. From everyone.

I found out the hard way that my version of self sufficiency was insufficient. Ironically the more I focused on self sufficiency, the less sufficient I became.

I forgot that to be sufficient, I needed support.

Today I'm more self sufficient surrounded by the right support structure than when I was flying solo. Here are some of my tips be more balanced.

  1. Keep connected. "No man is an island." Neither is a career. It only take 15-30 minutes daily to maintain a wide support base. I drop a few emails to business and personal connections every day.

  2. Balance teaching and learning. My mindset used to be, "I am THE resource” and I forgot that I needed resources too. Now I remind myself, "EVERYONE is a resource."

    • Listen for learning. For example, a colleague briefly mentioned she started a side business. I took a few extra minutes to chat and got a quick lesson on social media and marketing.

    • Make your coaching sessions pull "double duty." When I mentor people, I also ask them what they’re passionate about. This way I learn something new and they become a resource for me.

  3. Share what you're learning. Don't just lean on your strengths. Sharing draws people in. When I was a "tower of strength" people didn't approach me. Today I share that I have a love of writing and I’ve gotten many generous offers of help.

  4. Ask for help - Daily. I simply got out of practice of asking for help. Now I ask for help or input when I'm learning a new skill or in my interest area. These days I ask about social media, design tips or book recommendations.

  5. Accept help. I used to turn down all offers to help. Now I say yes with a smile and a thank you!

Are you too "self sufficient"?

Self sufficiency is not a status, or a destination, but a journey. Remember, the very things that make you self sufficient are the things that keep you self sufficient: networking, learning, and asking for help.

And that should be enough.

Looking for other career tips? Take a look at these popular Evoke posts:

-Career Myth BUSTED: Your Results AREN'T Speaking for You

-Out Manage Your Micro-Managing Boss

-Don't Just be Better; Raise the Bar

Check out the Unlock Your Potential page for more insight and inspiration.

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