During the last six months of my time in Brooklyn, I met Rodney McKenzie, a fellow Brooklyn resident with one of the most inspiring life stories I’ve ever heard. An endless fountain of positivity, support, and knowledge, we became fast friends, and hung out almost daily, sharing our life experiences and motivating one another along the way. He turned me on to dozens of books, authors, and ideas. He helped me rediscover my love for Baldwin, and helped me become more confident as a writer. At the top of the list of his gifts is Self-Reliance. My life is forever changed from my encounter with this piece of work.
Released in 1841, Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson has become one of my go-to pieces of literature. In the essay, Emerson discusses the importance of listening to your gut instinct regardless of how unconventional, strange, unique, or controversial your idea or thoughts may be. He stresses the importance of believing in YOU, without waiting for external validation and acceptance. It’s still universally applicable today. I recently pulled out my weathered copy of the book, which contains the life-changing essay along with five other powerful pieces. There are entire pages highlighted and the margins are riddled with exclamation points, and “WOW” and “Oh SH*T,” “Why didn’t I think of this?” and so on. I remember reading this book for the first time on the 4 train into Manhattan in January 2008, and having to put the book down, shaking my head, and reflecting for a minute. The words are so simple, but moving. Here are a few excerpts that touched me:
“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,–that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,–and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.” -page 19
I had to put the book down after reading this for the first time:
“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty…They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility…” -page 20.
“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion…” – page 20
“Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will.” – page 33
…and so on.
The book altered the way I approached ideas. Whereas I may have originally dismissed potentially unpopular concepts, I try to embrace them. Hell, it may strike a chord with someone.
What book has inspired you the most??