On Self Reliance

From Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essay Self-Reliance:

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. . . .

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; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none. This sculpture in the memory is not without preestablished harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark. . . .

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.


  1. Shakespeare

    This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.
  2. Henry Ford Sr.

    Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.
  3. Morris Adler

    We visit others as a matter of social obligation. How long has it been since we have visited with ourselves?
  4. Mark Twain

    A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.
  5. Eleanor Roosevelt

    No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
  6. Louis Kronenberger

    Individualism is rather like innocense; there must be something unconscious about it.
  7. Galatians 6.5

    Every man shall bear his own burden.
  8. Arthur Davison Ficke

    A man must learn to forgive himself.
  9. Henry David Thoreau

    The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait until the other is ready.
  10. Ralph Waldo Emerson

    What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

More Quotations

  1. Louisa May Alcott

    I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.
  2. Meryl Streep

    I have always regarded myself as the pillar of my life.
  3. Agnes MacPhail

    Do not rely completely on any other human being,however dear. We meet all of life's greatest tests alone.
  4. Eleanor Roosevelt

    In the long run we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility♦.
  5. Rita May Brown

    A life of reaction is a life of slavery, intellectually and spiritually. One must fight for a life of action, not reaction.
  6. Doris Lessing

    Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself.
  7. Billie Jean King

    Champions take responsibility. When the ball is coming over the net, you can be sure I want the ball.
  8. Henry Thoreau

    Man is the artificer of his own happiness.
  9. Benjamin Franklin

    The U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.
  10. Frank Tyger

    Your future depends on many things, but mostly on you.

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