What Does Self Reliant Mean

The meaning of self reliant

You’ve heard the term, but wonder what does self reliant mean?

In my view, the shortest simplest general definition for “what does self reliant mean” – is – the following…

Relying on one’s self.

Self Reliant | What Does It Really Mean?

Okay, relying on one’s self. But is it that simple?

Pretty much, yes. It’s a combination of this… Having the natural instinctive attitude and behavior of taking responsibility upon one’s self, a can-do attitude of doing it yourself, and that of depending on yourself.

Taking Responsibility

What do I mean by responsibility? Well, it might be an obligation. Or a burden. Duty. Being answerable. Accountable. That’s part of it…

Do it yourself

An instinct to get it done, perhaps with one’s own resources. While there’s plenty that we as individuals cannot do ourselves without assistance or help… a self reliant person will not firstly or instinctively put off something onto others.

Depending on yourself

Making your own decisions. Confidence to exercise one’s power of judgement. As opposed to relying upon or depending on others.

Another way to address the question of “what does self reliant mean” is to look at the opposite. There are those who rely on others first, before they rely on themselves. Someone who is NOT self reliant is more likely to be intuitively or naturally dependent. Dependent on others or other systems (for whatever). In other words, they count on it.

It doesn’t take me long to discover through conversation with another — whether or not that person has the attribute of being self reliant versus dependent. Though ultimately, ‘the proof is in the pudding’ — actions speak louder than words.

Sure, we’re all dependent on other people and other systems to an extent. But what I’m getting at is the natural resolve of depending on yourself versus a reliance upon another (as one example).

Self reliant is an attribute. A good trait in my estimation. I believe it reflects a core desire for freedom and independence. Liberty.

It’s a measure of one’s character.

It involves conviction, dedication, determination, fortitude, and self reliant skills in order to reach or aspire towards a goal (or result).

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A self reliant individual aspires towards non-dependence.

Natural or Learned?

That’s a good question. I believe it’s both.

Some have a built-in desire to be independent, self reliant. It seems to come naturally. Perhaps attributed to their upbringing and/or accumulated life experiences. Or maybe built in to their DNA sequencing…

I also believe that it can be learned. When an individual takes on a challenge, a task or goal, the resulting feeling of accomplishment afterwards is a learning and rewarding experience. This leads towards being less fearful or apprehensive about doing it again. Becoming more self reliant.

It’s an Attitude

The takeaway is that it’s basically an attitude. A personal characteristic. It doesn’t mean that you’ve got lots of stuff or that you’re self-sufficient. It simply describes a desire. The gumption. Resourcefulness. The acumen and get-up-and-go to be — self reliant.

Continue reading: 8 Lessons Learned From The Great Depression

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why
(an excellent book on amzn)


  1. Feeling decidedly less self reliant these days,
    But a regular paycheck is kinda nice.
    For a change

  2. I like this article. Years ago I dropped the word “prepper” from my vocabulary and use the term ‘self-sufficiency’ instead. Self reliant is also good. When people asked why we gave up our previous lifestyle for this one, well, I just tell them the way this country -and the world- is going we just want to be a bit more ‘self-sufficient.’ Or self reliant for sure. Can’t do 100 per cent but I feel like we are way ahead of the game for now. I am now giving great thought to just what will be absolutely necessary (including both stuff AND skills) in the near future. Blessings to all.

    1. DJ5280,
      I agree w/ you about terminology.
      The term “prepper” tends to bring up images of hoarding and weird people on TV.
      But, being more self-reliant, or self-sufficient, is a much more practical, pragmatic term. Rather than conjuring up an image of someone hoarding things and sitting around in isolation waiting for the end of the world, it instead brings to mind a more positive, pro-active description of having some skills and supplies to take care of you & yours in a variety of situations.

      I’ve had a couple of family members bring up my tendency to keep food stores (we’ll call it that). When asked, I explain it’s a good idea to have “a little bit of stuff” set aside for an earthquake, power outage, in case of illness (all non-threatening scenarios) I’ve received a more positive response – as in “That’s a good idea to keep some stuff on hand – you never know”. And it’s a lot better than explaining the extent of my preps, or taking it any further in general. And, if it gets a loved one to stock an extra bag of dry goods, case of water or brick of TP, so much the better.

      1. If you really want to get into terminology that appeals to millennial and self-righteous progressives… call yourself a “sustainable homesteader” or say you are into “sustainable homesteading.”

        1. SoCal Gal, Yep. If anyone ever sees my food stores, I just tell them it’s my “winter pantry.” And since we are quite a drive from any stores it’s believable!

  3. -“No man is an Island…”

    Still, some of us try to be. I personally believe it is learned; I have a little sister who still can’t get over the idea her brothers choose not to continue to spoil her the way her father did when he was alive. Problem is, she is now in her middle 50’s. Don’t think she is going to get any better. Maybe someday she’ll start talking to us again. Maybe.

    – Papa S.

  4. I see it it my family. My son, though not perfect, is a good man. Handy, resourceful, great work ethic. My grandchildren are each different in their own way. The youngest, a boy, is quick to rely on his older sisters. They love him and spoil him. He just grins, when he gets them to do his biding.

    I make him do everything for himself. He is assigned specific chores when he visits. At first he pouted and had to be TOLD to do his chores. Nothing overwhelming was ever among his chores. Now-a-days when he arrives, he simply does what is expected. Well, not always but mostly.

    He wants to be included in projects. It’s important to him, to contribute. It makes me smile to see the gradual changes. We played with a xmas gift I received. A small, cheap, fire starter. A small chunk of something resembling magnesium and a tiny fire steel. Probably cost 2 dollars at harbor freight. He really wanted to start a fire with this tiny rig. Him and I EVENTUALLY started an ember/potential fire. He was thrilled. My hands were tired, oh well.

    That boy likes fire, as all young boys do. He is assigned trash burning duties, here at the house. I guess it’s better he plays with fire, with some supervision. He’s gonna do it either way.

    Self reliance often stems from natural curiosity. I’m thrilled that he is curious about things other than video games. (he likes those too) He helps his dad constantly and is getting better with a hammer. He still bends plenty of nails.

    Self reliance comes from growing up around self reliant people. My son and I were both lucky in that regard. Doing is the most important step.

  5. Self reliance is wonderful and liberating, BUT

    Just think about the day that you won’t be able to wipe your own butt due to age or debilitation, no matter how much TP you have stored. Even preppers age out. So, some prepping for future support or assistance should be considered.

    1. Absolutely. And I’m not knocking the notion of assistance and help from others. Not at all. Being self reliant should not be characterized as a stubbornness or refusal of help. MANY ‘tasks’ require more than one individual to accomplish. And as you said, debilitation, aging, and other factors come into play…

    2. Very true, Hermit!
      Earlier this year i joined a gym — an odd thing of itself. I’m not a ‘joiner’ and not someone who likes being among many others. But to get into better shape and make the lifestyle change to commit to the exercising, I knew I needed to change and do it.

      Once I joined that gym, I hired a personal trainer. I committed myself w/ a contract and a schedule. It was psychologically difficult for me to do that — it meant relying on someone else and it also meant trusting someone I didn’t even know.

      Now, six months later, my trainer is among my closest friends. She is so much MORE than a trainer to me…..and I look up to her and admire her on so many levels. She could be at my campfire any day and if she and her husband knocked at the door during an SHTF event, they’d be welcomed in.

      Another point: I have learned that almost every health care professional I have been in contact with is caring and is wanting to help you — even if it is for a test or exam. These people have selected their jobs as a career, and their careers are chosen because they are people oriented and wanting to help.

      It may be different in assisted living facilities, but your concern is valid and it’s a subject that isn’t addressed often.

  6. Self reliance…..
    In a Country (world) that now practices, preaches, and engraves reliance. The dependence on others. Namely . Go v.
    Either by financial means, regulations, etc.
    It is both a natural and learned instinct, but when there is a push to be dumbed down even further….
    What’s the % of 30 somethings living with parents, the # of people on some type of .gov assistance.
    Are they self reliant?
    Do some, not all, have a choice?
    Our way of life has taken a drastic change, within the last 10/20/30 years.
    It’s only those that have seen, been taught, see the importance of being self reliant, that continue to be that way.
    Others find it easier, less complicated, just to say, “help me”….because I don’t know how or not willing to help myself.
    Just rambling…..now where’s my Cheetos and game controller? Mom…

    1. And with that….
      Listening to some Pink Floyd
      ……”I have become comfortably numb”

      Says it all, don’t it?

      1. INPrepper
        Good Lord, really?
        That means ma would have to use the microwave.
        I ain’t got time for that

        Twinkies, please…..
        Or maybe Nutter bars.

        (Finger down throat)

  7. Many young people do not have a chance to learn self reliance.

    If you were lucky enough to be raised on a farm, you certainly learned to do many tasks – building gardening, farming, animal care, … but at that time you probably thought you were hard done by.

    If you were lucky enough to be raised under the tutelage of a parent that had you help with work in the trades, you know how to be more self reliant.

    Now consider a kid going through indoctrination college and only have a piece of paper to show for that big investment of money – but have not learned any, what I call life skills.

    1. Hermit Us,
      I agree with you 110%.
      Kids that are lucky enough to go to a college where they insist on “hands on training” during the summers has got himself/herself what I call a ‘well-rounded’ education.
      I have always thought farm kids had better life coping skills than kids raised in town.

    2. hermit so true. I was raised in suburbia. My parent’s had gardens from time to time and put some food away. It was not until the 1980’s when farm life began. I liked it. Had the ‘desire’ to learn and the husband of that time had a green thumb, hunted and was a handy type. We had little money, a freezer, canner and big pot for water baths.

    3. Good point. I grew up in the country and was always busy doing something. If something broke, I would try to fix it myself. I had the tools and equipment available to do that. I am now at this time in a city. I have none of my tools and equipment save my Leatherman. Due to the living conditions, I cannot have any tools and equipment. So, any work beyond a loose screw or bolt, a repairman has to be called. Things for me now are like most people here, almost totally reliant on others to fix things. Where I am, there aren’t any welfare cases in this country. If you want to eat, you have to work. But staying in an apartment means no snow shoveling, no weeding, no mowing, no veggie garden. I feel almost completely useless not being able to do the things I have done for so many years. I guess that’s just me. Others around me have no problem having other people do work for them. To them, that’s just the way it is and has been.
      UHHHHH, I hate the city.

  8. It seems to me that self-reliance comes naturally and it’s also a lifestyle that is observed and learned. I remember being an independent child. I remember always being curious and eager to learn things, explore, and experiment. I was the oldest child — maybe the birth order has something to do with being independent?

  9. My Dad was the original car guy. I grew up watching and helping him in the garage. OK I was probably in the way more than I was helping, but he taught me a lot about how to fix stuff. When something broke we didn’t go buy a new one we fixed it. My folks provided very well for me but I was taught at a young age if I want something I have to work for it. Dad raised a garden and Mom froze and canned the veggies. I was required to help with these chores. When I wasn’t in the shop with Dad I would mow yards for people around town. Today you would be arrested for child abuse if you FORCED a teen ager to WORK. I thought my folks were really mean to make me do all that stuff when I was a kid but today I’m grateful that they did. Today I am far from self-sufficient because I don’t own enough land to plant that much, but I am self-supporting. I have a full time job, I raise a garden, I work in the shop on the side and take care of DW who is in poor health. I thank God that I had good parents to teach me these things.

  10. Years ago I followed a blog which issued a challenge to lessen dependence on grocery stores. This could be done in various ways, including by using our own garden produce, stored bulk items, shopping farmers markets, trading with neighbors or other creative ways. I was still in the suburbs and still working so while I took the challenge, the first few months were hard, because I had to break the habit.

    I went from weekly, to every other week, to every three weeks and eventually got to once a month grocery shopping. That meant I had to plan ahead, anticipate emergencies and stop impulse buying. It also meant doing without if I forgot something or messed up. While the effort did not qualify as self-reliance, it started the desire to work towards being more self-reliant. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

  11. Self reliant is more than having stuff stored up for an “emergency”. It’s more than having read up on, or even putting into practice “survival skills”.

    No, self reliance is a mindset or way of thinking. You are wakened by a prowler going bump in the night. Is your first thought to call for police……..or to steel yourself for the possibility you, and you alone will be your family’s protector? Your car/pickup breaks down, is your first thought to carry it to a mechanic, or set about repairing it yourself?

    I could go on, but the point is, “self reliance” requires that in good times you see yourself as the first line of offense as well as defense to tackle life’s up’s and downs.

    One of the greatest compliments my youngest son ever gave me was after he and I finally got a piece of equipment up and going after a full day of trial and failure (him watching and learning, me fabricating temporary replacement parts by hand). He said, “Dad, you never give up until it’s fixed do you?”. He will probably never know how good that made me feel.

    That is the mindset one will have to have when going to town for supplies, calling the police, or a mechanic ain’t an option………..and everybody is in the same boat as you.

  12. Self-reliance.
    I have read the Article and responds a couple of times now.
    You want to know what I read/hear???
    Lifestyle, it all comes down to the Lifestyle you want to live. How much do YOU want to take charge of YOUR LIFE????
    Want to be a Give-Me-Dat??? Ok. Want to be independent?? Ok.
    Each of us has a decision to make.
    Do you want your life in someone else’s hands, the government’s hands???? OR do you want to make your life, your Lifestyle YOUR’S?
    Fairly as simple as that.

  13. I was self reliant since I was 16. I paid for everything by myself when I started working in the logging industry at age 16. I started out bumping knots and hooking on a line machine during the summer break. I worked after school servicing log trucks and heavy equipment. I bucked bails, mowed lawns, washed dishes, painted houses,cut and split firewood and would do any kind of job that paid money.I paid for college by myself. I always had a curiosity for new skills and was taught responsibility by my late parents. If I was bullied at school, I was told to take care of it and I did. I schooled my forestry teachers in high school on how to sharpen and maintain a chain saw and instructed my ROTC professor on orienteering that I was masterfully taught in Boy Scouts. I instructed my high school science teacher on skinning and stuffing a Gila monster. I hiked 70 miles through the Selway wilderness at age 12 with only my skills and a back pack. I learned how to rapell off cliffs at age 15 by a group of national guardsmen for our boy scout troop, white water raft at age 11, shoot, process wild game, trap beaver, weasel, bobcat, etc by age 12. I floated the wildest part of the Missouri river at age 14. Young people today are overly protected from dangers, hard ship, hard work and life in general. Victim mentality, “being taught by our society and schools today” is criminal. It has created a generation of emotional weak and disturbed young people. I was very lucky to grow up in a place, “where I had wonderful parents and a community of giving people who gave me the knowledge” I needed to be self reliant. Young people need to be taught to rely on themselves, but they also need the knowledge and the environment that allows it. My best instructors were my parents who taught by example. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they were instrumental on how I became the person that I am today. Failure was part of life, but quitting was never acceptable or allowed. Thank you Mom and Dad, you were the best. Until we meet again.

    1. Wolfgar,
      You and I had similar experiences as children. I also learned rappelling from Guardsmen in Scouts. I agree with you totally. I am teaching my daughter a lot of the things I learned as a kid. She was totally excited that she got a slingshot for xmas. I love that!!
      I can’t/won’t let my daughter accept the “victim mentality” being taught by today’s society. She is 9 and already has more outdoors skills than most “adults”.
      Like your parents, we, need to pass on what we know to our children. Its part of being a responsible parent.

  14. The meaning of Self Reliance….. my definition:
    I spent all of Reagan’s first term in juvenile detention, came out to no family; yet still under onerous truancy laws for another couple years. I managed to finagle appearances at public high school to maintain some level of legitimacy. I befriended a couple of local cops who helped guide me away from more trouble. And I worked for $3.85 an hour until I had just enough money to go one-way to California, where it was warmer and oddballs fit in better.

    I soon discovered SoCal wasn’t so warm in December, and promises from distant relatives weren’t worth much. Several more months homeless – room mate > many room mates > my own little box in da hood > meet nice girl > many more rentals > raised two kids with no ext family > kid’s are gone > house is too big > have enough put up to ride out any drama up to a year.

    1. tmcgyver, I’m not trying to be disrespectful, “but that doesn’t sound like self reliance” but a story of bad choices, and a poor attitude. People may not like this next statement, but it is the truth. Life can be unfair and will throw us curve balls , but we are exactly where we chose to be. The first step to self reliance is owning ones mistakes and failures and to never blame others. The next step is learning from our mistakes and never repeat them. The third step is to never feel sorry for our selves. The last and most important step is never quit, ever.

      1. Good Morning Wolfgar – No disrespect taken. I lost everything, including a family, when I was ten years old. Bad choices? Poor attitude? Yep, copy that. That’s how we learn on our own, right? I sure didn’t know anything about logging, or skinning bobcats. Or any useful skills at all – learnt those all later. The last, most important step – ‘never quit, ever’. In case it wasn’t evident, blame my poor writing, because that’s exactly how I got to where I am now.

        1. tmcgyver, I was blessed with a great family and community. Many such as yourself were not as fortunate. That said, I had friends who were also blessed and destroyed their lives with bad choices and poor attitudes. To this day, they blame others for their misfortune. Others I have known came from nothing and have succeeded far beyond me. My rant comes from the frustration I see in today’s society where many people have slid into the depressing mind set of victim mentality. Self pity is the worst attitude any person can fall into. You obviously were tough enough to survive and have no need to explain your life to me or anyone else. I can be too critical and judgemental of others, but it is directed no less at myself. It is an ineradicable flaw in my character.

  15. Response to Wolfgar and tmcgyver: Thanks for sharing your widely varying backgrounds.

    I am somewhere in between you fellows in terms of family support and spirit of self reliance. I have made some bad choices and done some stupid things in my life and I was given opportunities to redeem myself and become a productive citizen and contributing member of society.

    My parents tried hard to make me into a little gentleman and scholar. In some areas , it did not work because I refused their advice and teachings at the time. I was given advice and encouragement by some local cops that were fathers of my friends and they helped me stay on the straight and narrow path. They also taught me to “do the right thing”. Later on, they were my references when I applied for jobs as an LEO.

    I am naturally curious and I am pretty social so I will walk right up to a person and ask questions about what they are doing much to the chagrin of my wife. Over the years, I have learned many things from many people and it is difficult to thank them all.

    When my mentors started to pass away years ago, I began my new mission to pass on some of this hard earned knowledge to those who ask me questions. ( every topic from recipes for dishes at pot-lucks to reloading ammunition and casting bullets from scrap lead.)

    As I age into retirement from my present job, I am looking increasingly at home-based care for dependent adults. It is a need that is growing right now and I am at the tail end of the Boomer demographic. This was mentioned above by hermit-us earlier in this post.

    Despite my jokes about buying a laundramat, working as a cook etc, I will probably stick with the job that has been covering the mortgage and bills for over 20 years and keep working as a nurse. Like Wolfgar, I came from a supportive family and community. Like tmcgyver, I made some unwise decisions in life and came into my present career as a late-bloomer having worked at and trying a number of different jobs prior to “settling down”.

    Call it self reliance, call it success. There are many different paths to the same goal. Pass this on to your children: Grit and perserverance and the ability or insight to learn from your failures as well as your successes in life. Sometimes, the most memorable lessons are the painful ones.

  16. I’m pretty sure self-reliance is a side effect of your situation. Or maybe socioeconomic status.

    When I was younger I didn’t have any money. I pay more in federal taxes than my parents ever grossed. Not having money yet still having dignity makes one self-reliant.

    In my case, later in life, it has been due to my attempts at paying someone to do something and them sucking at it. I would gladly pay a lot of people to do stuff if they didn’t suck at it. It has gotten to the point where I will check references and demonstrated work on people for just about anything.

    Often I end up wasting my time by trying to pay someone else to do something. So I have to pay more than if I’d done it myself and on top of it takes longer than if I learned it myself and did it myself. Sometimes it is still cheaper if I had to buy new tools. And it is almost always cheaper regardlessif I factor in lost wages of a buck a minute in my pocket.

    Take an oil change for example. $25 for 5 quarts and $10 for a filter. $35. If you do it yourself it takes about 15 minutes but then you have at least another 5 minutes of cleanup. So let’s say you’re into it for $60 because you used hand cleaner and paper towels. Since you recycle anyway disposal doesn’t matter. We’re going to assume your cost of fuel and wear/tear is moot getting the oil because you’d have to do the same to go to an oil change place.

    Synthetic oil changes with a synthetic filter is usually at least $60 at a dealer. If you have an appointment it will take you 15-25 minutes for an oil change. But you made a special trip and likely all in you have an opportunity cost of at least an hour or $60. So that oil change cost double. And when you get home you have the privilege of getting oil off your seat, you armrest, your gear shift, your door handles, and your steering wheel.

    1. You forgot a bunch of things lol. Every oil change I check, the front and rear differentials, transfer case, u-joints-grease if applicable, grease steering linkage, top and bottom ball joints, wheel bearings, leaks on oil cooler lines, transmission cooling lines, transmission pan gasket, front and rear axle seals, break lines, power steering, brake reservoir, lights, turn signals,air filter, tire tread and pressure, spare tire air pressure, in put and out put seals, gas tank, fuel lines, fuel pump and lubricate all door hinges, battery connections, battery cell level and corrosion, upper and lower anti freeze hoses, alternator, radiator-leaks-condition, all belts- condition and in winter I check the anti freeze with a hydrometer. Preventative maintenance is a must. No quicky oil place does all this in the time they spend on each vehicle. Many places charge for services that is never done. Next time you purchase new tires, check the torque on the lug nuts and the tire pressure when you get home. It will be a crap shoot if they get it right. Self reliance is the best practice.

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