When you hear the word “strong”? What or who do you think of? Chuck Norris? Bruce Lee? Or my favorite female spy Sydney Bristow from the show Alias?

For me, being strong used to be about kicking a$s and taking names…

I grew up with two older brothers and learned how to hold my own. Then I went to college and was one of the few female Mechanical Engineering students  in a tough school. I became skilled at compartmentalizing my life. Back then one of my favorite songs was Montgomery Gentry’s “Hell Yeah”. This verse describes where my head was: 

“She’s got an MBA and a plush corner office. She’s got a don’t mess with me attitude.”

Then I would ignore the verse that followed…

“She’ll close a deal she don’t reveal that she can feel the loneliness the emptiness except when she comes in here...”

Because it revealed that compartmentalizing has consequences.

If you become emotionally shut off to the pain you are also shut off from joy.

So much of what we learn about strength is destructive. Being strong isn’t about taking no for an answer or about not letting them see you cry or sweat. Really these things are easy compared to – letting things go, compromising and being vulnerable in front of others. Yet we believe that if you admit your fears, that if you make mistakes or that you sometimes don’t know what in the heck you’re doing that others will see you as weak. The truth is that everyone has these thoughts and feeling – it’s the human condition.

I’ve learned that real strength comes from making these 7 choices every day:

1. Authenticity: Brene Brown, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, has the best definition I have ever seen for Authenticity. “Authenticity is a collection of  choices that we make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves to be seen”.

2. Courage: Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is admitting you have fears yet pushing through them. It means feeling your feelings while not letting yourself be controlled by them.

3. Forgiveness: Some people just won’t like you. Some won’t get you. And some will hurt you. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse what they’ve done  – it sets you free from taking mental responsibility for their actions so you can move on.

4. Humility: Pride and humility cannot co-exist.  Each of us fight pride everyday in the form of control, judgement, competition, envy etc. Humility is about seeing yourself as a human being not better than anyone else. Each life has value.

5. Asking for Help: Asking for help is not a sign of weakness in fact it is a sign of real strength. To admit and reach out to another human being to share your struggles often means you care more about being the best you can be then exposing your imperfections. Those you don’t do this will never reach their full potential.

6. Listening: To truly listen to another person means setting yourself aside not needing to be heard. Not needing validation but choosing to build someone else up. It’s being confident in who you are allowing you to put someone else first.

7. Connection/Vulnerability: Sharing how you really think and feel is the only path to true connection. To do that you must be vulnerable exposing you true thoughts to those you trust. Being known is risky are requires #1-6.

Which choice will you make today to redefine strong in your own life?

Copyright 2015, Mary R Miller