The Myth of Individualism

The Myth of Individualism: Are You Too Self-Reliant?

In our society, we generally ascribe to the cultural belief that success or failure is a direct result of our own individual efforts and abilities (Baker, 2000). In fact, many of us pride ourselves on being independent and self-reliant, proud of not needing anyone or anything to help us get to the top, wherever that may be. Consequently, many of us may perceive asking for help as a weakness.

In regards to professional or career success, many researchers would argue that soliciting help and enlisting others in our goal pursuits may be one of the most important ingredients for success, especially considering that much of what we accomplish is done through the assistance of others (Smith, 2006). Perhaps, then, self-reliance can be taken too far; in other words, a sense of independence and an “I can do it on my own” attitude may actually impede our development and prohibit success. According to Smith, trusting, supportive relationships are what facilitate the process of intentional change because others have a strong influence on our identities, who we are, and who we might become. In this way, turning to others in our network of relationships is an integral component of growth and change. So, as opposed to the myth of individualism that permeates our society, the reality is that “networks of relationships are essential in achieving personal and professional success, as well as to achieving a happy and satisfying life” (Smith, 2006, p. 719).

Chandler, Hall, and Kram (2010) suggest that relational savvy is a key driver of career development and success, one component being relational attitudes. Having a relational attitude means you believe that people like helping one another as long as it is not getting in the way of their own work, as opposed to thinking others may find it annoying. Similarly, you believe that soliciting help is a strength that actually makes you look good because it shows an active effort on your part to resolve challenges. Overall, these individuals take a relational approach to their own development and build relationships along their journeys because they are not only aware of their own strengths and weakness, but they also have a strong sense of who they can turn to and what resources those people can offer them.

5 suggested ways to enhance relational savvy and enable a relational attitude include:

  1. Assessing your attitudes and perceptions about soliciting help
  2. Reflecting on past successes and identifying key relationships that played a part in those successes
  3. Conducting informational interviews with professionals to see how relationships played a part in their development and success
  4. Asking yourself: Who helps me get work done or advance my career? Who provides me with personal support? Who serves as a role model to me?
  5. Mapping your developmental network of relationships to see what type of resources and support you currently have that you can leverage

In the end, the ultimate realization is that asking for support and soliciting help can make us stronger in our attempts to resolve our own challenges. Confidently reaching out to others and working interdependently can only set us up for success, both personally and professionally, by serving as a key strength, not a weakness.


Baker, W.E. (2000). Achieving success through social capital: Tapping the hidden resources in your personal and business networks. Jossey-Bass, New York, NY.

Chandler, D. E., Hall, D. T., & Kram, K. E. (2010). A developmental network and relational savvy approach to talent development: A low cost alternative. Organizational Dynamics, 39(1), 48-56.

Higgins, M. C., & Kram, K. E. (2001). Reconceptualizing mentoring at work: A developmental network perspective. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 264-288.

Smith, M. L. (2006). Social capital and intentional change. Journal of Management Development, 25(7), 718-731.

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