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 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 planet 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—who 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, to 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 book store.
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.
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