"Self-Reliance," first published in Essays (First Series) in 1841, is widely considered to be the definitive statement of Ralph Waldo Emerson's philosophy of individualism and the finest example of his prose. The essay is a fabric woven of many threads, from a journal entry written as early as 1832 to material first delivered in lectures between 1836 and 1839.
Emerson was known for his repeated use of the phrase ‘‘trust thyself." "Self-Reliance" is his explanation—both systematic and passionate—of what he meant by this and of why he was moved to make it his catch-phrase. Every individual possesses a unique genius, Emerson argues, that can only be revealed when that individual has the courage to trust his or her own thoughts, attitudes, and inclinations against all public disapproval.
According to the conventions of his time, Emerson uses the terms "men" and "mankind" to address all humanity, and the multitude of examples he gives of individuals who exhibited self-reliance and became great are all men. These factors somewhat date Emerson's presentation; the underlying ideas, however, remain powerful and relevant.