I was chatting with a friend last night who is dealing with a significant loss. Trying to comfort her, I assured her that time would heal and that she would emerge from this experience a stronger person. Her reply, which was along the lines of “I don’t know how much stronger I can be,” got me thinking about what, exactly, strength is to me. No doubt, my idea of strength has changed a lot in recent years.
I think for most people, when we think of strength, we think of power, bravado, fortitude, grit, brazenness, champions. We think of people who don’t back down, who refuse to take no for an answer, who are unencumbered by challenges. We think of those who blast through brick walls, who are both physically and mentally tough. While these characteristics can certainly be traits of someone who is strong, I think they only tell part of the story. Being strong is about so much more than refusing to crack or how many times you can get back up after taking a punch to the gut. To be sure, strong people are relentless and persistent. But truly strong people also do more than walk on coals and blast through brick walls. Strength isn’t just about physical and mental fortitude – there’s an emotional component.
My understanding of strength has become more complex as I’ve weathered storms, taken risks, and given myself the chance to reflect. I was naïve to ever believe strength was just about will and determination. I’ve been blessed to encounter some wonderful, truly strong people throughout my life – from various walks of life, and in some of the most unsuspecting circumstances. From these people, I’ve observed what truly strong people do:
They forgive themselves.
Strong people don’t operate on guilt. They understand that there is no value in guilt, lamenting the past, or beating themselves up over past decisions. Life is a journey, and we often gain the most wisdom from the greatest trials. You can’t always anticipate the future, and sometimes you won’t make the best decisions. You can look back on decisions that weren’t your best and feel disappointed in yourself, or you can take the experience of making a bad decision, become wiser from it, and make better ones in the future. You can’t move forward when your focus is on the past – strong people understand this. Instead of feeling guilt or disappointment in themselves, they forgive themselves and commit to doing better next time.
They are okay with asking for help.
This is a big one. Strong people recognize that it’s okay to ask for help – that nobody gets to the top alone. They don’t feel defeated or embarrassed to seek help when they need it. They are independent, sure, but they also recognize that there’s a reason we don’t all live alone on our own planets. When you ask someone for help, you are actually giving them a gift. One of the best feelings of elation a person can experience comes from helping others. Helping others is a form of love. When you ask for help, you give someone the opportunity to express love, and that’s pretty great.
Strong people definitely cry. They don’t have breakdowns over a stubbed toe, but when they feel moved to cry, they don’t hold it in to save face. They’re okay with ugly crying and letting painful emotions move through them so they don’t get blocked up. Strong people see crying as a tool for catharsis. These types of people are able to cope with grief and move on in a healthy way because they are willing to feel the pain, to let themselves sob, to let it out.
Strong people know how to say they’re sorry when they’re in the wrong. They are not over-apologizers (if you’re one of those people who says “I’m sorry” for everything – stop). They know that apologizing is powerful, as are opportunities to make things right after they’ve made a mistake worthy of an apology. To say “I’m sorry” and “let me make this right” is a wonderful way to disarm someone who’s been wronged and to show wisdom. Apologizing isn’t a blow to the ego for strong people… in fact, truly strong people have buried their egos (but that’s a post for another time).
They put others first.
Strong people find satisfaction in watching other people achieve their goals, in helping others find fulfillment. They understand that the rewards of putting others first always come back ten-fold. For this reason, they are also wonderful leaders. They eat last. They are able to feel joy for others who they help succeed – a really awesome, selfless joy.
They understand that peace is priceless.
Don’t get between a strong person and his or her peace – they will protect it fervently. Strong people understand that you cannot put a price on peace, because they have actually experienced true peace. They know the bliss of peace and they are unwilling to let people or situations into their lives that will rob them of their peace.
They take nothing for granted.
Perhaps this would be better described as gratitude. Strong people are thankful – they live in a state of gratitude, and this prevents them from ever taking people, things, or opportunities for granted. They appreciate life with a richness that can only come from this constant state of gratefulness. Strong people regularly say things like “thank you” and “I appreciate you.” They want others to know they are valued. They recognize opportunities when they appear, and they never waste them (because they know that some opportunities only come around once).
They know when to say when.
Strength is also about knowing when to cut your losses – when to recognize you’re fighting a losing battle and realizing that a change of plans is in store. Strong people aren’t so hard headed as to prevent themselves from recognizing when it’s time to go with Plan B. It’s not a sign of failure, its a sign of wisdom.
There it is – my short list of the other things that truly strong people do. Strength is also about kindness, wisdom, gentleness, self-acceptance, and gratitude.