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Self-Fulfillment, Self-Realization, and Self-Reliance: Do any of these work? by John Paul West

I don’t know about you, but I tend to think that I ought to be able to achieve my goals on my own. It should be possible, right? A lot of self-improvement programs sure make it sound like it is possible. They preach a Gospel of Self-Fulfillment and Self-Realization that will be made possible by Self-Reliance. There’s a lot of “self” in that “Gospel” and it all centers around the idea that we can achieve our goals and gain happiness solely by our own effort (so long as you have the right technique). But is this “Gospel” really Good News?

In my experience at least, it hasn’t been good news. When I try to rely on myself alone to achieve my goals, it seems to work at first, but eventually, I reach insuperable obstacles. No matter how hard I try, I can’t completely stop myself from being attracted to things that aren’t good for me. I can resist these temptations for a while, and even develop virtues that make it easier to resist, but eventually, something goes wrong.

Sometimes I just have a bad day and fall into old temptations. Other times, I’ll get burnt out from trying so hard (you can only white-knuckle it so long before those knuckles give out). Often, my goals themselves will start to seem meaningless and I’ll lose the motivation to keep on trying.

I’ll bet that at least some of that sounds familiar to you. We see these patterns manifesting all the time at Metanoia Catholic. So why does this happen?

Deep down, the reason this happens is that we were never meant to bear the burden of life on our own. From all eternity, God intended to walk side by side with us in all our works, enabling us to accomplish the good things He desires us to have. This is why Jesus says, with infinite compassion, “Without me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5) and, “I will be with you always,” (Matthew 28:20). This is Good News! We already knew from our own experience that we could not achieve anything worthwhile on our own. But now, we know that someone is present with us to help.

This does not mean we should stop striving to achieve worthy goals. God gave us—and is even now giving—the gifts of free will, courage, perseverance, and the love that reaches out to great things. What fundamentally changes as we let go of self-reliance is that we treat every good thing as a gift from the one who is with us always. Instead of condemnation of our efforts, Jesus’s words are an invitation to be with Him in all we do, even as He is with His Father in all that He does. Because of Jesus, we don’t have to be alone in our pursuit of our goals.

So, the next time you find yourself believing the bad news of self-reliance, remember the Good News of the man who said, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am meek and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” (Matthew 11:28-30).