Over this past year, I’ve found myself reexamining a number of beliefs I had formed as a child. Some of these reflections come from the fact that I’m getting older. Some come from my wife’s cancer diagnosis last year. And some are simply a recognition that the world is changing and I would like to keep up.
One belief I’ve been thinking a lot about is what it means to be “strong.” Growing up as a boy in the 80s, my definition of strength developed from action movies. Think bulging muscles, boxing matches, and shoot-em-up justice. For a long time, strength to me meant lifting heavy objects and perseverance regardless of the odds.
Today, that definition doesn’t hold up. Of all the strong people I know, not one of them has ever rescued a hostage or even been in a kung fu death tournament (that I know of).
As I look at what strength is today, I don’t think it has anything to do with physical performance. I think it’s about an unwavering commitment to just keep going.
I’ve always loved the idea that life is not about standing tall. It’s about getting back up when you get knocked down. I don’t think I ever realized, however, that this is the definition of what it means to be strong. It has nothing to do with being “victorious” and everything to do with always putting one foot in front of the other.
I need to say clearly here, that I do not think strength is a refusal to quit. In fact, I think true strength involves seeing situations clearly and sometimes making the difficult decision to change course, to do something new, or to leave the comfort of certainty behind.
Strong people who find themselves in a job that’s unfulfilling don’t exhibit strength by “toughing it out.” They exhibit strength by accepting the situation, deciding what to do about it, and then moving forward down a path of uncertainty where they do not know what will happen.
Strong people who are burned out and depressed don’t have to show strength by just “hanging in there.” They can show strength by putting one foot in front of the other and accepting help. Strength can be going to therapy, talking to a doctor, making changes in our lives, and doing what we need to do to keep going. For most of my life, I don’t think I understood that some of the greatest acts of strength involve allowing others to help us.
In the end, strength is not about refusing to quit or change. It’s the opposite of that. Strength is about accepting that life will bring us hardship, and we must keep moving forward…often by making changes instead of refusing them.