Is self-sufficiency good?

The goal of most parents is to help their children live lives independent of their care. The teenage years are marked by the struggle between dependence and independence. But what about self-sufficiency? Webster’s Dictionary defines self-sufficiency as “able to maintain oneself without outside aid.”

Certainly, being able to take care of one’s own needs is a good thing but carried to an extreme, self-sufficiency implies that one needs no outside help. I would observe that self-sufficiency does not work in relational and organizational settings. Sports teams and businesses win due to effective teamwork, not the expertise of single individuals that do not work with a team.
The same is true for our spiritual life. A key choice we make in life is between putting our complete trust in ourselves and accepting our dependence on God. Surrendering our will to God’s will is at the cornerstone of Christian faith.

In Luke 9:23-25, Jesus says “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”

I could quote many other verses and parables that reflect the same theme – that dependence on God is the way to lead a fulfilling life.

Carol Novello learned that lesson.

Currently, Carol serves as president of Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) and is the founder of Mutual Rescue, a national initiative to change the conversation from “people or animals” to “people and animals.”

Carol’s Background
While finishing her studies in economics and English at Dickinson College, Carol experienced a painful setback. When she was a senior, her Dad passed away. “It [his death] was one of the most painful experiences in my life.” Not only did Carol look up to her father as a wonderful dad and accomplished scientist with a brilliant career at Merck but he also provided a spiritual influence on her. Carol fondly remembers her Dad teaching her the Lord’s Prayer when she was a youngster. That experience kindled her faith and, she says “gave her peace and joy.”
“Although I believed in God,” she says, “I didn’t have a relationship with God.”

After her father’s death, Carol embarked on a 20-year journey that she felt would please her dad. “I set my sights on achievements that would make my father proud. I got an MBA from the Harvard Business School and climbed the corporate ladder.” She had a successful 11-year career at Intuit in leadership positions, including as the Vice President and General Manager of QuickBooks Online.

But as she entered her forties, she found that self-sufficiency was not working. “I found myself unhealthy, lonely and increasingly dissatisfied. I knew my father would be proud of my achievements, but I also knew he would be sad that my life had gotten so out of balance. I’d reached the point where I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, and I knew I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing.” She also was overweight.

She left Intuit, determined to get healthy, lose weight, and put balance back into her life. She engaged in psychotherapy and explored spirituality that helped. Her live improved dramatically, including finding a man she loved. “But I still didn’t know Christ. I didn’t understand the significance of who Jesus was and what he meant to the world.”

A New Calling
Carol did find a new calling. She joined the board of the Humane Society Silicon Valley that helped fulfill her passion for animals. Six months later, she was asked to become president when the current president retired.

This was my first lesson in co-creating with God. When I decided to go back to work, I had written a list of ten criteria about what I wanted in my next role. I figured I’d be lucky if I got 6 or 7 out of the 10. I put things on the list like “a product or service I could believe in,” “having a one-way commute no longer than 30 minutes”, and “a strong leadership team.” Never in a million years did I think I’d end up running a non-profit but when I looked over my list of criteria, I was surprised to find that the role at the Humane Society Silicon Valley met all 10!”

She had renewed health, a wonderful relationship, and a job she was passionate about.

From Self-sufficiency to Dependence on God
And then the bottom dropped out. Her relationship ended. “Other than my father passing away, I had never been through anything so painful. ”Out of desperation, she found a relationship recovery group at Menlo Church and started reading Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend and How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth by the same authors.

What I realized is that I had spent my entire life oscillating between being “self-sufficient” and looking for things outside of myself to fill me up. I had looked to my father to be my source. Then I looked at my own achievement to be my source. Then I looked to my love relationship to be my source. I realized this was an unsustainable way to live – I was living in fear that my “sources” would dry up and I was exhausted expending energy on trying to make sure that wouldn’t happen – to control things that were not in my power to control.

The Cloud and Townsend books drove Carol to read the Bible. “The Bible became more accessible to me for the first time. Up to that time I was pretty much biblically illiterate.” Carol was profoundly affected by what she read in the Bible, especially passages about the need for spiritual growth. “These teachings completely shifted my mind. And as my mind shifted, it truly ended up melting my heart. With this new understanding, I was able to open up to receive the truth that the one eternal source is Christ and that he resides within me.“

In June 2015, Carol started writing in what she calls a “faith journal.” In her journal, she notes her transition from self-sufficiency to dependence on God.

I completely surrendered my heart to Christ, and I asked Him to heal me and to help me be of service to the world. I wrote that “I don’t know” how any of this will happen but I am done thinking I can figure it out by myself. In fact, I am done “thinking” because I realize that I can’t “think” my way to you. I have to open my heart to feel your presence.

God Answers Carol’s Prayers

Unexpectedly, she and the man she was no longer with had the opportunity to offer gratitude and forgiveness to each other. “That started the healing process for me to the extent that now I’m in a place where I can look at that heartbreak and view it as a gift that truly cracked my heart wide open.”

Two months later, she found an opportunity to extend her passion for animals and people. A board member introduced Carol to a talented executive producer who wanted to do something with animals. Carol had long wanted to show how transformative animals can be in people’s lives. The creative producer came up with the idea of making short films to illustrate this point. He coined the phrase “mutual rescue.”

Carol was familiar with the story about a 340-pound man named Eric who had adopted a dog from Humane Society Silicon Valley that had helped him lose over 140 pounds and dramatically changed his life. She and the producer got permission from Eric to make his story into a film that launched Mutual Rescue.

The film is called Eric and Peety and was released on Valentine’s Day 2016. It was a huge success, with over 100 million views on various social media platforms around the globe.

Since the release of Eric and Peety, Mutual Rescue has continued to grow. The organization released five more short films which collectively have been viewed over 35 million times. That success led to the opportunity for Carol to write a book called Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too. The book is scheduled for release in the spring of 2019. “My hope,” says Carol “is that the book will further advance the mindset that helping animals help people.”

Carol’s journey from self-sufficiency to dependence on God changed her life for the better. She found a new calling and is making a big difference in the lives of animals and people. “By receiving God into my life,” she says, “I have the opportunity to co-create with him. And that’s where true power and strength reside.”