Summary Written by Parin Patel
"Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles."

- Self-Reliance, page 73

The Big Idea

Trust Thyself

"Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string."- Self-Reliance, page 4

“Trust thyself.”

Sounds so simple doesn’t it? Then why is it so hard?
What Emerson wrote over 170 years ago is as true today as it was when he wrote it.

We live in a world where we are influenced by so many different factors. Whether it’s our education, upbringing, media, religion, politics, etc. – we are constantly presented with not only more information, but also more opinions.

And while there is nothing “wrong” with any of the above, we must be careful to not let all of the “outside noise”, drown out our own voice.

To not let it drown out what we truly and genuinely believe, and see in our own hearts.
To not let it break our “iron string”.

“Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am’, but quotes some saint or sage,” writers Emerson. “He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.”

We must trust ourselves.
And in order to trust ourselves, we must Know Ourselves, and Be Ourselves.

Insight #1

Know Yourself

"We live in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity."- Self-Reliance, page 24

In a society that is eager to tell us, and present us with ideas on what “we should do” or “should be”, Emerson urges us to become more self-aware and understand who we truly are.

What do you believe in? Why?
What do you want to do? Why?
What are you currently doing? Why?

It’s crucial to understand the internal compass, which we all have.

Emerson believed it was pointless to even donate to seemingly “good causes” or strive for the betterment of society, without understanding why you’re doing so in the first place. “All men plume themselves on the improvement of society, and no man improves.”

Here are two ways you can get to know yourself better:

1) Keep A Journal: Every evening before going to sleep, reflect on your day and how you felt it went. Some questions you could ask: Did I accomplish my goals for the day? How did it feel? What went well? What needs work? Similarly, write every morning as well. You could use this time to write your goals for the day, or acknowledge the things you’re thankful for. As you write more and more, day by day, patterns will emerge, and you’ll begin to get a clearer sense of not only the direction you’re headed, but also the how and why as well. This practice has really helped me become much more self-aware.

2) Do Something: Of course, sitting on the sidelines, not doing anything won’t do any good either. In order to know yourself, you must also go out and experience the world. Go do something. And then (and this is key) reflect on the experience. Write about it in your journal. “Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing.”

Join our newsletter

Sign up for the very best book summaries right to your inbox.
We care about your data in our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Insight #2

Be Yourself

"We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents."- Self-Reliance, page 3

If you know yourself, then why not just be yourself?

Emerson urges us to recognize that we are all unique, with our own strengths and weakness. Our own wants and desires, our own beliefs and values.

And that’s OK.

“Insist on yourself; never imitate,” writes Emerson. “Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? … Every great man is a unique… Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare.”

I know you’ve probably heard this before. But it’s worth mentioning here again. The world doesn’t need more “me toos”. What the world needs, is You. And Emerson’s Self-Reliance is a perfect reminder, and manifesto, for that. It’s true what the book description says, “Every page of this manifesto will cut you to the bone, inspire you and expose the seduction of blind obedience for what it is: a trap.” And I know I’ll be keeping it close by.

“Nothing is as last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

Read the book

Get Self-Reliance on Amazon.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are few people as quoted and quotable as Ralph Waldo Emerson, founder of the transcendental movement and author of classic essays as Self-Reliance, Nature, and The American Scholar. Emerson began his career as a Unitarian minister and later put those oratory skills to move us toward a better society. More remains written on him than by him.

Subscribe to digest
Read about our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.