Updated: Oct 26, 2022
There’s a secret I don’t often share in public spaces for one main reason: you never know how people will react.
I don’t openly share this part of my life because it’s usually met with squinted eyes and a tilted head. Rather than support, I’ve come to expect looks of panic and questioned mental stability.
But I have this whole manuscript thing I’m finishing up and one of the chapters is “Own Your Story Like a Boss” and, once you write something in a book, you should like maybe kind of probably live that out… yes?
So here goes, today I will finally share with you one of my festering secrets:
For the past year and half, I’ve been doing… Crossfit.
Throughout my 30 years on this plan,et I’ve never been an outward, surface-level sign of strength. In high school, I was Sailor #4 in HMS Pinafore and was publicly shamed for not being able to lift a tiny dancer girl across my body by her microscopic waist. #chorusboyproblems
And yet, over the last three years, I’ve been standing up in rooms full of people talking about my suicide attempt and, in the process, indirectly fighting to change our cultural definition of strength.
There’s a psychologist—Dr. Howard Gardner—in 1983 developed a theory of multiple intelligences as a bold attempt to refute that reading and math are the only indicators a person is “smart.” Gardner identified the following 8 categories:
Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
Intrapersonal intelligence (“self-smart”)
Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)
While his work has been massively ignored by the American education system (see *cough* insane reading/math testing culture), Dr. Gardner’s work can open our eyes to recognize the different kinds of intelligence within ourselves and each other.
And like this shift, our cultural views on STRENGTH desperately need to do the same.
What if the signs of true strength aren’t measured by bicep circumference, but are found within?
So in hopes of helping the strongest and least recognized among us, today, let’s chat about 10 signs of true strength no one recognizes.
Few people have had a greater impact on my life than Brené Brown, a researcher-storyteller whose books on courage, shame, and vulnerability taught me the strength to start this whole suicide prevention thing in the first place.
Vulnerability by definition is putting yourself in a position where someone could physically—or worse—emotionally harm you. It means being brave with your life, being authentic in the person you present to the world, and putting yourself in risky situations where you might get clobbered.
And yet, vulnerability is essential to being recklessly alive.
Choosing to take big risks, love deeply, and be true to yourself is the only way to actually live. It’s not about over-sharing your struggles, but utilizing your story to help others better understand you and themselves. In her Ted Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” Brené says about whole-hearted people:
“They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating…they just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first … the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees … the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.”
Vulnerability is not something you accomplish, it’s an on-going practice in how to live.
Strength Training Tips:
Watch this Ted Talk “The Power of Vulnerability”
Read as many Brené Brown books as possible especially Daring Greatly and Rising Strong.
Seek out counseling to process your story and heal the trauma within you so that you may share your best self with the world around you.
2. Asking for Help
Yesterday at Hobby Lobby, I couldn’t find the bathroom. Instead of asking for directions from the 6 employees I passed, I walked across the large parking to Caribou Coffee as to survive the day without any human navigational assistance. #Winning
While a small example, asking for help is one of the most important signs of strength. We all need people and we all need a hand up.
Asking for help doesn’t mean you are weak, it’s a sign of humility because you recognize there’s a better version of yourself than you can achieve on your own. Getting help also strengthens relationships and gives people in your atmosphere permission to ask you for the same.
Practice asking for help in little and big ways.
Asking for help can also look like a google search or walking into a bookstore.
Be open to outside or professional help, knowing there are so many paths to wholeness.
3. Undeserved Kindness
As an elementary school teacher, almost every dollar of my paycheck is earned through acts of undeserved kindness.
I was not designed to be more patient or loving than you; you could certainly watch a video of my worst teaching moments when mental exhaustion defeated me. And yet, I start each day in my classroom with one basic premise: every human is worthy of kindness, even on their worst day.
In our world, it seems you can’t go to a store or restaurant without watching someone explode about a minuscule mistake, one orange Tic-Tac in a box of their minty-white supremacy.
One of the greatest signs of strength is meeting imperfection with kindness instead of an eruption of anger—even when said Tic-Tac packer deserves it.
Live your life by spreading acts of kindness wherever you go.
Actively work on your anger through body awareness, calming practices, and/or that whole mindfulness thing everyone is obsessed with.
Work towards balance in your own life with proper channels of release so that the unresolved parts of your story and identity don’t cause damage to others.
4. Elevating Others
Anyone can spend every second of the day only thinking of themselves, but strength is found in not only empathy and compassion for others but action to help them reach their full potential.
What are you doing to lift up others? What are you doing to be present to the suffering around you? What are you doing to help someone else breathe easier today?
True strength isn’t found in a life lived for yourself, it’s found in using the blessings and struggles you’ve experienced to help someone else.
Strength Training Tips:
Give yourself credit for the ways you already help others around you.
Choose to love people well, to show up enough to recognize when they need you and can’t ask.
Live with your eyes open to those who need a hand up and be willing to enter into the discomfort of helping someone who can never repay you.
5. Choosing Forgiveness
I have to work insanely hard at not letting the past reign over my present, letting go of people who have caused so much pain, and creating a new future that is not dictated by yesterday.
My depression tends to spring up when I feel like I can’t be myself or feel trapped with no way out. In those moments, I mostly want to sit in the shower and cry.
The key to unlocking that cage in the messy and difficult work is forgiveness for others and for ourselves.
You can spend your whole life bitter and angry, drowning in a sea of what should have or could have been. But true strength is found in choosing to acknowledge the pain you’ve experienced, setting boundaries to keep yourself from getting destroyed again, and choosing to move on.
In the words of the great prophet Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next.”
Thank you for what you meant in my life. I forgive you for the pain you caused and ask you can forgive me. I wish all the best for you. And then move towards what is next—with or without you.
Strength Training Tips:
Speak forgiveness to those around you when they cause you pain.
Express gratitude for the forgiveness shown to you.
Write a letter (probably never delivered) to someone you can’t seem to move past. Share it with a friend or counselor. Then maybe light it on fire (preferably with fireworks).
6. Going After What You Want Most
There are a lot of consequences for listening to your heart and chasing big dreams.
People will doubt and trash you.
People will say you’ve changed.
People will openly mock your blog in front of you in a back-handed attempt to humiliate you in the middle of a gathering of church people… (wait, was that last one just me?)
Being the person you want to be—shedding the oppressive expectations of others—is maybe the hardest thing we face here. In the tension of people-pleasing and displaying our perfect social media aura at all times, we forget to stop and ask ourselves: is this really the life I want to live?
What dreams are tucked beneath your pillow?
What is it that makes your soul come alive?
What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
True strength is choosing to be yourself in a world that spends every second of the day convincing you that you’re not enough. Just give up. It will never happen.
The only way to be recklessly alive is to go for it.
Strength Training Tips:
Get away and get quiet. Find a place where you can just listen to yourself and see what comes out. Then make this a routine in your life.
Make time throughout the year to look at your goals or bucket lists and be honest about your progress.
Stand up to someone (or pull them aside later) when they make side comments that chip away at who you are.
7. Overcoming Addiction
Fighting for freedom—in any capacity—takes an extreme amount of courage and strength. In a culture that shames addiction as weak, we fail to acknowledge some of the strongest around us are fighting tougher battles than we can ever imagine.
To those in the throws—fighting the chemicals inside that are screaming, combatting urges that are beyond normal mental capacity, working towards demolishing that wall you can’t break through: we see you and are for you. No matter how many times you’ve relapsed, we love you and believe in you. Believe you are worthy of freedom so fight like hell.
Overcoming an addiction is not weakness, but one of THE greatest signs of strength.
Strength Training Tips:
Be real about the addictions in your life and ask for the help you deserve.
Be a person of empathy and assistance when someone shares about their addictions.
Forgive yourself and keep going.
8. Saying No
Every new project you take on is hours away from the people you love. Every obligation is time you aren't becoming the person you were meant to be.
Time is your greatest currency.
In a culture that rewards the person who never stops, who works 97 hours of overtime, who places value on productivity: choose to be the grounded person-centered on love, rest, and milkshakes.
The first step in saying no is knowing yourself and what your life is about. Once you know that, ask yourself: does this fit into my life purpose or is it a distraction? Then puff out your chest and say, “Nah thanks.”
Decide what your best yes is and go for it.
Give yourself permission to disappoint others—haters gonna hate.
Ask yourself what you really want to do before over-committing and quitting if it’s all too much.
9. Using Your Voice
We were not created to passively go around letting others tell us what to think and believe.
There is a voice within you that has questions about this world, questions for leaders and organizations, questions about poverty and oppression and sexuality, and the future.
For chicken fingers' sake, ask the dang questions. Stop telling that voice within you to be quiet and let him roam free.
It’s easy to sit and be quiet, and watch as poor leadership hurts other people and puts roadblocks in their way. True strength is found in using your voice and your agency to make the world a better place.
Strength Training Tips:
Actually listen to the voice within.
The world needs you to speak up, to say when things aren’t right, to use your brain, and never become the mindless follower manipulative leaders want you to become.
Find an outlet for your voice to be heard—a blog or platform—and USE IT.
10. Getting Back Up
I hope you know struggle and defeat. I hope you know what it means to fail and land on your ass in a pile of horse manure. I hope you know what it’s like to get the wind knocked out of you, because it’s there that you learn what you have more strength inside you than you ever knew.
People who have never risked everything, those that never truly know loss or defeat, know nothing about strength—no matter how many steroids they’ve taken.
When life beats you down, find that fire within you to get back up and fight for the life you want. Moving forward on your worst day—when everything inside you is screaming to give up—is the very definition of true strength.
If you know that battle like I have, you are the strongest person you know. Use that strength and explode into the best version of yourself. You can do this my friend, you are stronger than anyone gives you credit for.
In a few hours I’ll be walking through the front door of our Crossfit box (it means gym) giving out hugs and high fives. I’ll chug some strawberry lemonade pre-workout loaded with caffeine for optimal physical performance.
I’ll laugh my way through warm-ups before working harder physically than I ever have before.
I do Crossfit because I fully believe in the importance of physical strength; caring for our bodies is one of the most important things we do here.
And yet, how many weights you can lift off the ground is not the only indicator of strength. The greatest strength is often found in ways we cannot see.
Let’s all start recognizing all the different kinds of strength within ourselves and within others, for true strength, is found within.