The Only Help is Self-Help

Bruce Lee adorns the cover of April’s Muscle and Fitness, which makes it a must-buy for me. I manage to learn something new every time I read even a small amount of Lee’s writing. As a writer, I strive to one day be similarly impactful; as a Man, I find myself coming to many of the same conclusions that Lee did, which helps give me the Confidence to continue living and writing the way I despite fair amounts of criticism.

As always, even a small sample of Lee’s writing manages to reinforce an idea that I inherently know to be true, but had not yet put into words or even conscious thought:

The Only Help is Self-Help

If you’ve read much of what I’ve written, such as Building a Charismatic (, you’re aware of the appreciation I have for Bruce Lee and the Eastern philosophical perspective in general. While many if not most people respect Lee for his physique, my repsect stems from his musings on life and writing – much of which is contained in his first book, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

Not to get all New Age on you, because I thoroughly love America, but Eastern philosophy has always rung true to me in a way that Western philosophy has not. Western culture is defined by borders and clocks; you work from this hour until this hour, you meet at exactly this time, you do this and than this and than this. Frankly, the Western way of doing things seems like living in a cage to me, and while I do what I have to do, I’ve always been a square peg in a round hole as far as social conformity is concerned.

In my never-ending battle with modern living, I’ve become something of a philosopher and a writer myself. While in small part I write to entertain people and to be heard, I largely write because I come to Conclusions that I Believe are very important, and much like Bruce Lee, I have a need to share these Conclusions with anyone willing to hear me out.

Most satisfying to me is that I am coming to the same Conclusions at Bruce Lee with increased frequency; there are times when I think we might be on somewhat-similar paths. I have no aspirations to be an actor or create my own martial art (…yet), but it’s very reassuring to me that I have developed a similar mindset to someone as innovative as Lee.

This brings us to Today’s Lesson, which is that Only Help is Self-Help.

How to Help Yourself

This has been said many times and many ways, but Lee’s interpretation is that the responsibility for saving yourself ultimately falls on You.

Have you ever been asked to give someone advice on their love life? Maybe your naive younger cousin or sibling, who is nervous about interacting with the opposite sex?

Being a wise Mentor (more on this later), you can give them all sorts of tactics and tips to make their experience with a potential boyfriend or girlfriend run more smoothly, but ultimately it’s up to every individual person to figure out how to kiss the boy or girl they like. Even if someone holds your hand 95% of the way, at some point you have to step up and cross the finish line by yourself. Good advice and guidance can be very helpful, but it ultimately falls to you to Do whatever it is that you set out to accomplish.

This concept is one of the things that I found irreconcilable with being a fitness trainer: while I have no problem presenting information to people and helping them with program design and technique, in the end a coach or trainer cannot give somone the motivation they need to achieve their Physique and Performance goals. That can only come from within.

While I have had some clients who possessed the self-motivation to achieve the Physique and Performance goals they sought, for every properly-motivated client, I probably had three or four who wanted me to hand-hold them to six-pack abs or run their half-marathon for them. In most cases, it wasn’t an issue of lacking work ethic in the gym, but lacking the Internal Drive to see their goals through to completion.

Chris Shugart, an Editor at my favorite fitness website T-Nation.Com, covers the idea at length his article, “Phoenix Theory”. His assertion, which I completely agree with, is that You Have to Set Yourself on Fire. His article can here found here: (

If the notion of Self-Help is true for Achieving Goals, it’s doubly true for those time when you need to pull yourself up.

Consider the notion of mourning a loved one: while your friends and family can provide all of the support in the world, it’s ultimately You that needs to come to accept the passing. This is not to devalue or undermine the role of a good Support Network, but to illustrate that other people can only take you so far; there are some things in life that only you will  truly understand about yourself, and there are questions in life that only you will be able to answer for yourself.

Self-Reliance and Self-Sufficiency are not synonymous with isolating yourself from other people, which is a mistake some will make when interpreting this lesson. I am not encouraging your to take this adolescent stance of “everyone is against me, and you can’t rely on anyone but yourself”. That’s a view emo kids, teenagers, and other victims of arrested development take when their roulette-wheel hormones are convincing them that the entire world is against them.

I am suggesting that you empower yourself by realizing that Change, Self-Improvement, and especially Salvation lie within. If you hate your shitty job, shitty perosnal situation, or your shitty life, You are the only person who can really pull yourself out of the hole you’ve fallen into.

This idea is covered well in the movie Bridesmaids:

Anyone recovered from an addiction (with the possible exception of Charlie Sheen), while quick to credit all the support given to them by their friends and family, will tell you that the decision to kick a habit is a battle that a person fight by her or himself. While fortunate people have healthy amounts of support, there comes a point in time where everyone must make a lonely walk by her or himself, and must be prepared for the trial and tribulations that they will come across.

On Being a Captain

My Dad, using Sports as his model for everything, has always said I was a born coach. He meant this in a complimentary way, meaning that I have a great mind for sports and natural leadership abilities, but it was always kind of a back-handed compliment.

He was half-right. The hitch was that my Dad only played baseball, basketball, and football. I’m a hockey player.

There aren’t Captains in other sports, not like in hockey. Sure, I realize Derek Jeter struts around with a “C” on his uniform, which was the Steinbrenner family’s way of apologizing to him for signing Alex Rodriguez (that, and $23 million dollars per year), but the Captaincy isn’t a baseball tradition in the same way bench-clearing brawls and tobacco-spitting is. In football, the Quarterback is the designated Alpha Male and the presumptive locker-room leader; while there are Offensive and Defensive Captains, I don’t think they bear the same burdens of responsibility as Hockey Captains. I mean no disrespect to a middle linebacker who calls the plays for the Defense, but it’s not the same as everyone in the room or on the ice looking at you during times of indecision or turmoil.

This clip from Mystery, Alaska is the best way I know to differentiate between a Coach and a Captain:

The idea of the Captaincy is something I can’t really explain to non-hockey players. There’s no higher honor. It’s your friends and teammates telling you that you’re their Leader, and even if you aren’t the most talented, you represent the best of what the Team has to offer.

No sport undervalues the contributions of the Coach like hockey, which is why I always gave my Dad a wan look when he offered up the “born coach” assessment. But no sport reveres the contributions of the Captain, which is why I’ve been so honored on the occasion I’ve been asked to take the Captaincy.

The carryover lesson from hockey to life is to Be a Captain. You can best represent your family or group and serve the world by Being the Best of what your group has to offer. Leading by example, and partaking in the world like a Captain on the ice, rather than like a Coach on the bench, is my suggestion for improving the lives of yourself and others.

This ties in with Bruce Lee’s notion of Self-Help in that you cannot help others if you cannot help yourself. In both Lee’s view as well as my own, you ultimately serve the greater good by keeping or making yourself as prepared as possible, both mentally and physically, as well as investing a certain amount of time in yourself. While it’s extremely noble to run yourself into the ground for the betterment of others, it’s inevitably futile if you do so at the expense of yourself. Working for exclusively for others with no thought of oneself will lead you to fray and eventually collaspse, at which point you will be unable to help anyone at all.

This doesn’t even speak to the idea that a selfless person will constantly be taken advantage of and looked down upon, even under the pretense of appreciation.


Even if you aren’t a martial arts or fitness enthusiast, you can learn a ton from Bruce Lee. The Man had head screwed on as tightly as anyone you’ll ever meet, despite claims to the contrary.

Here is a link to a sample of his philosophy, cleaned up with interpretation:

His first book, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, comes highly recommended. You can find bits of his philosophy all over the internet.

My final thought is this:

If you’re struggling, like someone stranded in the middle of the ocean, you have three choices:

1) You can give up, accept the hopelessness of the situation, and let yourself drown

2) You can tread water and hope for help that may or may not come, or

3) You can start swimming

The conclusion that Bruce Lee and I came to is that we would rather swim than drown or wait for a phantom life-line. While there is no shame in accepting help from others, waiting for others to help you is an induction to victimhood. “Self-Help” is not a book or seminar topic, but a skill a complete person should be actively striving to cultivate.




About sfarrell11000
All over the place

One Response to The Only Help is Self-Help

  1. Pingback: Jack Reviews The Dark Knight Rises (Spoilers) « Jack_Has_Spoken

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