Erin pointing to clipboard with check marks beside title, income, promotion, followers and success yet questioning fulfillment in trusting your own understanding

The Myth of Trusting Your Own Understanding

Leaning on my own understanding gave me outward success, but inward emptiness. Do you find yourself leaning most on your own understanding?

In a world where we’re encouraged to do things our way, trust our own wisdom, and to “go make things happen,” it’s easy to believe that only we know what’s best for ourselves. It’s easy to lean on our own understanding and be self-reliant because, let’s face it, if you want something done right, do it yourself.

Especially when our business results show us that our hard work, our tenacity, and our strength paid off in big ways. Because clearly our success is directly tied to what we do, and if it is to be, it’s up to me.

I don’t know about you, but following my own understanding was/is exhausting. Yes, I had mountain top, stage-worthy moments throughout my career, with plenty of pats on the back for my drive, focus and persistence. But 30 years of that mode of operation took its toll, and I didn’t know how much until I was face down on the floor crying out for a savior when the accolades, income, client roster and “success” didn’t fulfill me (read: save me) like I thought it would.

Leaning on my own understanding gave me outward success, but inward emptiness.

Jesus met me on the floor that day and said, “You weren’t made to do business as usual.”

And the same applies to you.

You probably know Proverbs 3:5-6 by heart:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your path. NKJV

Let’s bring some more focus to this with two other versions:

Trust in and rely confidently on the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight or understanding, in all your ways know, and acknowledge and recognize him. And he will make your paths straight and smooth (removing obstacles that block your way). AMP

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. NLT

The instruction is clear from King Solomon: DO NOT lean on, rely on, depend on your own understanding. It’s not a merely a suggestion. And Solomon knew personally what leaning on his own understanding looked like later in his life (as did his father, King David).

Recently I’ve been struggling with this leaning habit and found myself in a pretty dark place. Stuck between what I think I know about putting my God-given ambition to work, and the next level God has been showing me is just ahead. This dissonance has brought me face down before him because I’ve been afraid to keep walking on the path that he’s brightly lit for me.

What is this fear? I’ve been afraid of succumbing to the aggressive driving and striving tendencies of my past. Of falling back into old, well-worn paths of my achievement-chaser patterns.

The question I ask myself is, “Am I being fully obedient if I’m all-in for God’s leading, except if it involves showing up boldly as he’s directed me?”
(hint: the answer is no.).

While I’m clear on how God defines and directs me, and I’ve been putting that into discipline since he directed me in 2018 to coach ambitious Christian women in business with the Bible as a map, the development (sanctification) I’ve experienced along the way is not done and it doesn’t match my understanding (go download my 4 Keys to Redefine Hustle tool).

2 Corinthians 5:17 says:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and behold, all things become new. NKJV

In his Life Principles Bible, the late Dr. Charles Stanley comments on this:

“This new birth is exactly what God says it is a fresh beginning, we are born again, we not only have our sin forgiven, and our guilt removed, but we also receive the Holy Spirit, who comes to indwell us and live Christ’s life through us. We can never be what we were before. Because we’ve been born into his new life with a new spirit and nature and because of that, our desires and goals should be conformed to those that God has for you.” (emphasis mine)

Do you ever read a familiar scripture, one perhaps you know by heart, but in one moment, you see something you hadn’t noticed before? That emphasis above is what I had glossed over before. And because the Holy Spirit is so gracious and loving in helping us discern God’s truth, he highlighted it for me as a lighthouse beacon cutting through my darkness.

We can never be what we were before.
I can never be what I was before.

I often say that I’m a recovering driver, striver, and achievement chaser. Therefore, along my sanctification journey, I’ve approached my business with a lighter touch in some ways. Because I don’t want to fall into the old mode of operation. And “the old things pass away” doesn’t happen on one day. It takes sanctification (like any new creation doesn’t start walking the day they’re born).

Yet with this beacon in my darkness, I realized I’ve been leaning on my own understanding of what God wants to do with the good characteristics of my ambition: my drive, my perseverance, and my desire to serve with excellence.

I’ve been thinking my drive is still what it was before Christ. But it’s not:

Old things have passed away and behold, all things become new.

Like Paul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, my new birth in Jesus means ALL things are new: my God-given ambition and drive are used in a new way: for his glory and Kingdom impact through my mission in the marketplace. He’s redirected me to his plan and his will.

And he does the same for you!

Leaning on our own understanding is muscling through in our own strength. Even when that means holding back on stepping into God’s next level of the assignment because we’re afraid our muscle memory will lead us to old patterns.

God assigned me to coach ambitious women for moments just like this: because my hindsight can be their foresight with his insight.

He made some of us to be ambitious, but he didn’t make us to work the world’s way. For ambitious women, “business as usual” has gotten them so far, some with incredible outward success. But they’re depleted and burdened, leaning on their own understanding to keep everything working the same and under control. And while they want to “do things differently” as they scale or move forward, they’re not sure how to do that (if they do, they’re convinced people will think they’re crazy). Maybe you can relate:

  • You gave your life to Christ and you’ve been walking this out, but he’s called you to something bigger and you think, “Are you sure, Lord? I’m not equipped for that!”
  • You’ve been tentative in letting him lead because you only see success as possible when you work the world’s way, and the idea of his redirection is scary: what if he slows you down or (worse?) tells you to speed up in his strength?
  • Or maybe, like me, you’re afraid of falling into old patterns by stepping out and stepping up boldly in his assignment. And fear is something the “old” you always bulldozed through!

Friend, it’s time we stepped out of those grave clothes that “secured” us when we died to ourselves (and our own understanding) and became new creations in Christ!! I see these grave clothes as layers, peeling off a bit at a time through our sanctification.

So, what layers are you still holding onto?

The Lord’s greatest goal is that we know him, and we cannot fully know him when we are clinging to our own understanding. We can only know him deeper when we let Him lead us into deep waters, and show up with no strings, no attachment, but only expectancy of all he is and what he can do in us (beyond our own understanding and strength).

If your strategy, your goals, and your discipline are solely based on what you can do, you’re relying on your own limits and leaning on your own understanding. When your strategy, goals and discipline can only be realized through God’s unlimited power and strength, that’s when you’re truly following Solomon’s instruction in Proverbs 3:5-6. And that’s when you acknowledge God’s truth:

Old things have passed away and behold, all things become new.

Here are two questions to ask yourself:

  1. Where am I leaning on my own understanding, and how you I bust the myth of trusting myself on this?
  2. What layer of grave clothes am still wearing that keeps the “old things” clinging to you?

Because we cannot fully step out boldly reflecting Christ’s light to do the work that he’s predestined us to do when we’re leaning on our own understanding.

The definition of living by faith is believing God’s word and obeying it no matter what we feel, what we see or what the consequences might be, no matter what our own understanding shows us. As one of my ROOTED Group Coaching clients said recently, “Until I let go of the old thing, there’s no room for the new thing.”

Take my hand, and let’s step out of those grave clothes together!

Follow my Redefining Hustle podcast on Apple, Spotify or your fave podcast network for my upcoming episode about this on May 8, 2023!

If you found this helpful today, share it with a friend, and let me know with a DM on social @thehustlewithheartcoach @erindharrigan

If this story sounds like you, I hear you. I see you. And it doesn’t have to be this way. God made you to be ambitious, but He didn’t make you to work the world’s way. I’m the coach that can help. Let’s chat about working together:



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