Discovering the Softer Side of Strength
It was late afternoon and I was crossing Wisconsin on Highway 94. Amidst the rolling green hills and fecund fields of corn, a billboard changed its screen and flashed this message: You are the strongest version of yourself.
I passed it in an instant, but it made me pause. What did that mean exactly and what was the message in it for me?
The timing seemed significant. With my gas tank full and my car packed to the brim with my belongings, I was leaving behind my home of the last 13 years and all that went with it--my friends and neighbors, my favorite restaurants, my house, my memories. My GPS was locked onto a new address 1,500 miles away, showing me exactly how to get there, but not what my life would be like once I actually arrived.
I don’t always like or use the word “strong,” because I feel like it can carry a sentiment of willfulness or pushing, like a soldier charging into battle. Sometimes there is a winner-takes-all or kill-or-be-killed kind of mentality behind it. Or a sense that strength is an ability to withstand hardship and suffering, as in "only the strong survive."
But seeing that billboard at that precise moment in my life, flush with the circumstances of my move cross-country, made me ponder what strength really means. In what way am I now the strongest version of myself?
A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought a move was possible in the next twelve months. Two years ago, moving wasn’t even a thought or desire in my conscious mind. Yet there I was driving out east, speeding into the unknown. Over the previous months, I had listened to my heart and breathed life into my desire, turning a wish for the future into an intention.
It was strength and that manifestation of strength called courage that led me to honor that desire and take actions to set it into motion.
Strength is following my heart and allowing in what my heart wants no matter how scary and unsettling it may sometimes seem.
In this way, strength is not a perseverance or forcing, but an allowing. It is a willingness to dream and a desire for greater and greater freedom and expansion. It is not running away, yelling "nevermind!" when life gets uncomfortable and uncertain.
If strength is an openness and allowing, how do we become stronger? Where does strength come from?
Perhaps the source of my strength is really just my belief in me.
Perhaps it is that unshakable knowing that my life is mine to live and I can make it as beautiful and magical as I dare to imagine. Perhaps we become stronger the truer we stay to ourselves and the more we open up to our potential.
There is strength in believing in my ability to create something beautiful at the end of the highway. In believing in me, I am letting go of the need to know everything in advance and micromanage what is to come. I am leaving fear by the wayside and trusting my own compass and my own power.
It’s kind of like being asked to do something at work that I’ve never done before that seems really complicated. I might have thoughts in the beginning of “I have no idea what I’m doing,” or “How am I going to do this?” Yet, in making a plan, taking one step at a time, applying all that I do know, and asking for help for what I don’t know, I always manage to figure it out. It’s the same with choosing change. I may sometimes feel like I don’t know how to move forward, but not only do I trust that I can handle whatever comes my way, I welcome it as part of my growth.
On that drive, physically moving across space with great speed, strength took the form of action and the decisiveness of each passing mile. It was saying yes to a different future. But strength is not the exclusive province of big, bold actions. There is also strength in knowing when to slow down and acclimate to what is unfolding. There is strength in just being.
As women know well, there can be strength in softness.
Despite having a list of all these things I wanted to do and felt like I needed to when I got here, I found myself spending hours just staring at the birds feeding on the lake, watching the sunset from the beach, and a new favorite, walking the labyrinth I discovered by the marsh as I contemplate the mysteries of the universe. Slowly, I am freeing myself from the tyranny of time. Strength is allowing my attention to follow what will bring me joy and peace in any given moment.
Strength is in giving myself permission to follow my bliss, in spite of all the "I should be's..."
Contrary to old adages, the strongest version of myself is not borne of trial and tribulation. Strength is not a reward for difficulty and challenge. We may show our strength in those times and help prove to ourselves what we are capable of, but hardship doesn’t produce it. Suffering is not the source of strength and is not necessary for it.
We all already possess all the strength we will ever need; we just might not fully realize or show it yet. For strength has its seed in our belief in ourselves and our ability to shape our lives according to our desires. Strength is the willingness to say "yes" to what we would love for our lives.
I ask you this, as the billboard asked of me: