The Man Who Goes Alone

In Walden, Thoreau wrote,
Above all, as I have implied, the man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.
This seems to me as good a place as any to start this journey. It is my intention to select daily some interesting words from the minds of others and write on the subject. Going alone, I start today.

This quote stuck out for me because it distills the contention between independence and relationship. Self-reliance is a virtue, an ideal worthy of aspiration. The independent, the self-reliant, the one bound by no other, is free to live at their own pace. Never does the man who goes alone sit idle while waiting for another, forced to obey the rhythm of the slowest. And why should anyone who stands ready let opportunity slip past simply because someone else needs more time?

My own personal sense of self-reliance has led me to learn quite a few things over the years. What I don't know, I will teach myself. I know a great deal about computers, especially in the area of software development, as that is my profession. I've learned some mechanics in order to work on my car, even though I am not in the good habit of maintaining it as well as I should. My faucet leaks and I will learn to repair it. Of course, I cannot claim to be overly proficient with any of these skills. This would be quite evident to anyone who has watched me spend several hours in the garage on a task that would take a expert mechanic perhaps 30 minutes. Skill is less important than knowing there is nothing which can be done by another on my behalf which I do not think I can learn to do for myself. That does not, however, mean I choose to learn everything.

I am one man with finite time on this Earth. I have no doubt that I could learn to put a new roof on my garage. Yet I am perhaps better off delegating that task, spending those hours instead to develop my skill in some other area. In need of a new computer, I could go so far as to learn how to build integrated circuits and microprocessors in order to create a computer from scratch. With that knowledge, I would then learn how to mine and process the raw materials needed for the task. For this endeavor, being entirely self-reliant, I would learn to fashion all the tools necessary as well. All of this I could do, but only a fool or a madman would ever try. Despite what other may say, I am no fool; and my madness leads me elsewhere.

Self-reliance is an ideal. We would all do well to approach that lofty goal. But wisdom is found by embracing the balance, not by chasing the extremes. Do what you must. Do what you can. Do what you enjoy. Leave the rest to those others who must, who can, who enjoy.

Just so long as you don't have to wait until they are ready.

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