By Kristine Steinberg, CEO of Kismet
The blue book… It still sits in an old drawer in my childhood home. Line after line of the money I still owe my mother for everything from candy to clothes to gas for the car. She tracked every penny I owed her. All there in black and white to remind me that everything she gave me had strings attached.
Growing up with frugal parents was not easy. While my parents were excellent providers, they were not free and open with money. My siblings and I all began working at early ages to offset the restrictions we had when it came to funding anything outside of our basic needs. In 5th grade, I juggled several jobs (paper routes, selling seeds door-to-door, babysitting) and stashed my money away. My goal became financial freedom. I don’t regret or resent this upbringing. It gave me diverse work experience, instilled in me a strong work ethic, and showed me the value of a hard-earned dollar. It also gave rise to one of my most distinct personality traits…independence. I learned that I could make my own way in the world, financially and otherwise.
Along with how I was raised, my independence was also born out of an early realization that people disappoint each other. I remember being let down countless times by friends, boyfriends, bosses, and teachers — events which felt crushing to my young heart. With each disappointment, my resolve to protect myself from these uncomfortable feelings grew and developed my personality. I was known to strike out on my own, from counter-cultural clothes and anti-mainstream music, to individual sports and almost always doing what I was told not to do.
This attitude of independence can show up as confidence, strength, and presence — but if I am honest with myself and with you, there is a lot of vulnerability, fear, and avoidance of intimacy living right under the surface of that front. The work that I do relies heavily on a passion for exploring human behavior, and somewhere in my 20s, I began to explore this element of myself.
What I discovered was that independence naturally resists its opposite energy of dependence, and that the fear of needing others can lead to individualism. Instead of leaning into the vulnerability inherent in the human experience, individualists tend to prioritize self-reliance and the desire for personal freedom over a focus on collective, communal pursuits. There is a belief in this state that dependence is a weakness. Yet, what I found was that my fear of dependence was not resolved through extreme independence; it just got hidden. And that realization led me to the discovery of a third pathway, interdependence.
In my deepest state of independence, I found myself seriously considering a spiritual path as a nun at a Catholic convent in Portland, Oregon. During a year of contemplation, I came face-to-face with a life of raw isolation. While the nuns I considered joining were good people doing good things in the world, I noticed there was a way in which they had chosen to be distinctly separate and protected. While this life path seemed like a bold choice at first, I realized in the end that it would have actually been a cowardly choice for me — a way of avoiding the human experience of being fully connected to others. Disappointment, love, pain, sadness, inconvenience, fear, humility, heartbreak, selflessness… As scary as life was, I realized I wanted in on it and that would require the courage to be in relationships with others more fully, committed to a mutual experience that would require me to be more considerate of the collective.
Interdependence is a way of being that acknowledges the natural reality of a human experience: mutual dependence, a healthy reliance on others, connection, continuity, cohesion. This is the intended way for systems to thrive. Resistance to this natural state causes breakdowns in relationships at home and at work.
By choosing this mode of operation, we work towards owning what is ours to own (behaviorally and tactically) and integrating others into our worlds by helping and being helped as each situation calls for. It’s a disciplined approach to relationships that requires self-awareness, discernment, commitment, and perspective.
In the end, I chose married life with children over a cloistered life — the ultimate exercise in interdependence. To need and be needed 24/7 will always be an edge for me. Instead of silent retreats, there are soccer games; instead of taking a walk alone to clear my mind, I invite my husband or friend along. Putting my individual needs aside* to consider the needs of the family, the group, the team, the system is what I signed up for and committed to. Reflecting on this choice, I realize how much more whole, rich, abundant, dimensional, and full my life is because of it.
* Putting your own needs aside does not mean that you should not have your own needs met. Self-care is essential to well-being. It’s more about taking everyone’s needs into consideration and making intentional choices for a larger purpose, not just an individual one.
There is a continuum between independence and dependence. The ideal point to strike for healthy relationships lies at the midpoint of interdependence. This balanced approach allows for a more effortless acquisition of productive, functional, gratifying, and purposeful outcomes in your personal and professional worlds. Interdependence will always be a discipline for me, and I believe for everyone. It’s a dedication to self-awareness and the greater good.
Like any discipline, it helps to have support, frameworks, and practice to sustain the effort. Consider your level of interdependence and what you need to successfully achieve it, using these coaching questions to help:
- Do you naturally land more on the independent or dependent side of the continuum?
- If you lean more towards independence, explore the following: Does your independence lead to individualism at times? What patterns do you see on this front? How does this impact your family, friends, and professional teams?
- If you lean more toward dependence, explore the following: Does your dependence lead towards needy or passive patterns? What examples can you point to? How does this impact your family, friends, and professional teams?
- What resonates for you about the concept of interdependence? Can you see examples of when this approach has resulted in a better outcome than if you had done it yourself or allowed others to do too much?
- What are some immediate ways you can exercise interdependence? I challenge you to take these actions and report back to me.
Kristine Steinberg is the CEO of Kismet. She believes that your life should be deeply fulfilling — not tolerated. Partner with Kismet to dismantle fear, define your path, and lead with courage. Start your transformation today: www.thisiskismet.com.