Sunday Snippet: Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship.”

The world has this unfortunate habit of always finding a way to screw everything up. You plan your trip into the city down to the minute, only to learn that the subway is malfunctioning and you’re left stranded on the platform for hours. You get yourself dressed up for a fancy party, only to venture outside into the pouring rain where your outfit gets completely and utterly ruined. It’s like the world is out to get you. Except it really isn’t. The world is just doing its own thing.

We oftentimes come to fear what we perceive as scary situations. We avoid stepping out in front of a crowd to deliver a speech, because public speaking is terrifying. We avoid uncomfortable conversations with our loved ones, because no one wants to discuss taboo subjects that are upsetting. We avoid confrontation and accept the status quo, even if it’s not what we actually want.

But is that really the way we want to go about living our lives?

You may know Louisa May Alcott as the 19th century American novelist behind such titles as Little Women and Jo’s Boys. The quote above echoes a sentiment that we can learn from Japanese culture. Rely on yourself. Rely on your own skills and abilities. And it is only through adversity, only when you put yourself in unfortunate circumstances that you can truly learn what you are capable of doing.

If you only take your boat out on the water when you have calm waters and sunny skies, you’ll never really know what to do if the weather suddenly turns for the worse. You can’t be afraid of some wind or bigger waves. You have to learn how to adjust and adapt. You need to have faith in yourself.

“A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on its own wings. Always believe in yourself.”

This anonymous quote offers the same insight. Yes, you can sit on that branch. Yes, you can reap all the benefits of sitting on that branch, being able to see far into the horizon and keeping yourself safe from predators on the ground. At the same time, you can’t come to rely on that branch and take it for granted. It could snap at any given moment. And when that happens, you need to know you can handle yourself on your own.

Does this mean that you should purposely put yourself in unnecessarily precarious and dangerous situations? No. That’s just foolish. What it means is you shouldn’t necessarily avoid great learning opportunities if they carry some potential risk. Just get out there. And trust yourself.

You ultimately can’t rely on anyone or anything else but you. You are the only thing you can control, so focus on what you can do and not on how outside circumstances are impeding your progress. Little women can achieve great things.