The Conundrum: Being Strong

After breaking my silence about a personal life event, I know there are a lot of people that suddenly have a lot of questions. My original post was intended to shed more light on an issue in our society than a whirlwind of questions about me. However, I accept the questions and curiosity as a part of the journey. In the initial aftermath, I noticed that there was one reoccurring message among conversations with people that personally know me– they have always viewed me as strong and smart. It is so sweet and wonderful for so many people to say this. To be honest it is oddly reassuring, yet in it also lies one of the descriptors that has caused unnecessary emotional turmoil throughout my life– STRONG. I have always aspired to be a women of great strength so I am happy that this trait is visible to others. However, for a long time my desire to be “strong” caused me great distress because I had no clue about what “being strong” really meant in practice. In my opinion, being strong and feeling strong are two different things and there is no great lesson in school that teaches us the differences between the two. For me, it is something I had to figure out over time.

Somehow I developed the misconception that being strong and smart meant that I always had to feel and act strong and smart. I had this idea that I couldn’t let people see my greatest weaknesses or else they might question my strength. In reality I was probably more terrified that if I acknowledged those weaknesses to myself it would disapprove what I believed about myself– I am strong. So when people kept saying how strong and smart they always viewed me to be, I started to wonder if this somehow meant they no longer believed it as much as they once did. The old way of thinking tried to sneak its little way back into my mind. After the comments, concerns, shock, and testimonies started rolling in, I started worrying about how this news would affect people’s image of me as a person. Would they think that the strength, drive, smile, laughs, ambition, and positivity we shared was all a lie? I mean, I worked so hard to overcome this adversity and serve as an inspiration for others so the last thing that I want is for people to treat me differently or question the many good times and happy days that we shared together. Yes, this little mind of mine was trying to test me! But, rest assured everyone; I passed the test in the end. Of course, without a doubt I know I am strong. How could I have overcome this secret adversity if I wasn’t? Yes, I may have scars, but I am still me.

In our society, people look up to the “strong.” Every Marvel comic superhero has his/her weakness, yet even though they often come close to demise in every movie, we still wish we could take a special daily multi-vitamin to gain some of their superpowers. We admire people that seem to endure adversity and subsequently emerge as victors. Well, as a young girl I had no clue about the complexities of strength, of how I even attained that label, or how to understand what it really internally feels like in a complicated world. Before the assault, I was strong. So after the assault, and when I felt I was over it (if that is ever really possible), I felt that I needed to continue being what I knew myself to be– strong. I thought feeling strong meant feeling confident, powerful, and happy. So, in my mind it should work in reverse order– being strong must mean being confident, being happy, and being powerful. Clearly, it takes more than a few years of life to develop confidence, happiness, and unwavering strength, yet I was certain that when I was not doing these things or feeling like this, I was not strong.

While my secret was significant and traumatic, I had a life, dreams, and other issues outside of it that I wanted to focus on as much as I could. In my adolescent ignorance, and in the face of a world that seems to enjoy playing dodgeball with human life, I set out to (1) feel, look, and embody my strength and (2) to fulfill my dreams. WHAM! Doubt. WHAM! Insecurity. WHAM! Failure. Mistakes. Fear. Acceptance. WHAM! WHAM! Loss. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! Ball after ball, life was starting to put my strength to the test and I felt that the whole world was watching to see how strong I really was. In reality everyone was probably worried about their own issues, but I told myself that letting other people see my pain would mean that I wasn’t strong. Where did I even come up with this crap? It is kind of funny; we really believe some warped ideas at times. Think about it. When an elite athlete is interviewed on TV immediately after a game, are they not breathing pretty hard? Aren’t they usually tired, sore, and possibly on the brink of exhaustion? Exactly! So, why would I ever think that exhaustion signaled the lack of strength?  This is real strength, not the silly mentally I had. Strength says, “I ran the race and finished. I tripped, fell, am tired, and sore, but I did not and will not give up. I will be back.”

After living life a little more, one the greatest discoveries I made was to realize and understand true strength through the lens of fitness and sports. In my athletic heyday, I could lift a pretty hefty amount of weight in the weight room. I was a young female athlete on a mission to sprint faster and run longer. I was am proud of my strength at that time. But I have to tell you, I was usually physically sore most of the time during the season! Eventually, I accepted soreness as a necessary component of building strength and after a while I got used to it. It was natural. “No pain, no gain,” right?  Overtime, I was less sore and very strong. In the beginning, I would say to myself, “Get it together girl. You are stronger than this. You are supposed to be strong.” In the end, I began to understand that I am “not stronger than this” but rather “I am strong because of this.” In my mind feeling strong once meant feeling confident, happy, and powerful. Well, on the journey to building strength one does not often feel confident and happy about difficult training and subsequent soreness. I finally started to see that strength is more a behavior than it is a feeling. From that point on, I learned to stop questioning my strength whenever I discovered another area of weakness. I was as strong as I believed I was and as strong as everyone says I am. Looking at strength this way has given me freedom in times when the weight of trauma, loss, failure, and disappointment are at an all time high. I was free to show the world that my physical and emotional “soreness” by no means was a sign of weakness, rather a sign of great strength.

In the end, I began to understand that I am “not stronger than this” but rather “I am strong because of this.” […] I finally started to see that strength is more a behavior than it is a feeling.

In most areas of success, business, or fitness, it is imperative to analyze areas of weakness in order to make the necessary adjustments to improve performance. It is no different for “strong” people. Anyone who is willing to reflective, notice their weaknesses, and take action toward improving themselves is strong. Strength is never an indication that a person is not carrying a heavy weight; it just means that they are choosing to never let it overtake them. Everyone displays emotions differently and everyone deals with things differently. If someone who is viewed as “strong” displays their emotions in a different way, it in no way indicates that their hurt is easier, lighter, or their character stronger or better. It just means that everyone is different and yet everyone is the same– human.

Strength is never an indication that a person is not carrying a heavy weight; it just means that they are choosing to never let it overtake them.

As we weave through the characters and complex world around us, remember that everyone has a story. They may never tell you the story or act it out before you eyes, but that doesn’t mean that their pages are not filled with complicated stories like everyone else. Never think that a “strong” person has never experienced great emotional challenges. Most likely, it is their journey through those challenges that makes them who they are! Chances are you are one heck of a strong person too; maybe even more than you know. And yes, life will play dodgeball against you too! Listen, you grab life by the balls and start fighting back with all you’ve got! You might feel a WHAM or a dozen along the way, but that’s OK. When you take the hit, you regroup and knock those challenges right back on its _ _ _ ( ← clue: another word for butt)! What? Strong people don’t swear… 😉

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