Today I’m going to be honoring my journey with a story about understanding strength. For me it was a trifecta of surviving, growing, and thriving. I mean that could be a blog post about gardening, but it’s not. Mostly because everything I try to grow dies. Cats and children are my wheelhouse. On a more cereal note, I’m going a little off book today and just sharing part of my personal journey that impacted my forward progress and personal growth. I’ll do my best to entertain in storytelling mode.
Surviving Through Strength:
My most basic and strong instinct has always been survival through means of strength. That probably means something different to everyone. For me, I grew up always trying to live up to an image of “strong” I had created in my mind. It was what gave me the inner strength to fight and essentially survive the obstacles I had to overcome. I always felt an instinct to protect those around me. As a child that meant my Mom, my little brother, and my friends. As an adult it felt natural to slip into the role of a protector once my children were born. If anything it grew even stronger.
Strong Women Influences
The women I looked up to in books and in cinema were what I imagined “strong” to be. Sometimes this meant physically tough (more often the case in movies), but mentally as well. Anne Shirley, Ellen Ripley, Buffy Summers, Steffi Graf, and Sarah Connor were my heroes. What I saw was normal, everyday women (or girls) put in tough situations and rising to the occasion while refusing to be victims of their circumstance. For these women it was always fight and I feel that same fire inside of me. I know that I’ll never give up and I’ll fight till my last breath and probably after for those that I love.
That’s great in certain situations, but not as an entire way to view life. Perhaps it made me capable and brave in some ways, but it also left me with some very judgmental tunnel vision. Normally I exercised empathy with people, but in these specific circumstances I would fin myself intolerant of people that seemingly didn’t want to help themselves.
Early one morning my toddler woke up full of tantrums and hostile activity. After an hour I gave up trying to work, clean or do anything productive. I sat down with him and while Stargate Atlantis played in the background. On the show two female leads (give it up for Science Fiction ladies……..putting women in charge long before any other genres) played by Rachel Luttrell and Jewel Staite are quite literally fighting for their lives. Luttrell is a physically strong warrior and leader and extremely capable. Staite played more of an intellectual, a healer (doctor), and in spite of neurosis still crossed galaxy’s and stepped out of her comfort zone to help others.
Even though I love Staite’s character I always found myself extremely frustrated with her at the start of this episode. Why wouldn’t she fight for herself? Why did she give up so easily? Was she really accepting her fate to be brutally assaulted and murdered because she was too afraid to fight? Rachel Luttrell’s character was focused and without remorse about what she had to do to survive. There is a point where Luttrell leaves Staite to cross a precarious bridge (a not so subtle metaphor to step out of the world she knows) and says to Staite,
“There comes a point in adversity where fear only leaves the will to survive.”
Staite eventually crosses the “bridge” in spite of her paralyzing fear and then thanks Luttrell. Suddenly it became clear to me how strong she actually was for overcoming that fear, even if the circumstances to push her there left her without much choice. My personal distaste for the damsel in distress initially frustrated me without ever really understanding it. In the next series of events you see her strength in compassion and ability to heal and how that eventually helps them as much as Luttrell’s “I’ve got this” attitude.
Strength Does Not Mean Muscles (Growth)
Don’t worry, if you feel lost I’m coming full circle with this analogy. All of these years I found my “survival” state of mind to be my strength and in most cases with what I’ve been through I needed it to be, but it has also held me back. For many years in my running (and life) I almost experienced a hostility toward myself, a lack of tolerance for anything short of “handling it” and I accepted no less. This did work to “survive”, but it left no room to grow. Because of this when I would fail I completely fell apart. I had confused mental toughness with an intolerance for failure instead of being strong enough to encourage myself. It was a long journey to get to where I could see that, but it was a game changer.
Being encouraging, having faith in myself, and experiencing confidence was not a sign of weakness. It helped me push forward on the long runs where “suck it up” didn’t always work. And ultimately it is a more useful tool than “don’t fail”.
By the end of the episode Luttrell and Staite both learned from each other and grew from each other’s wisdom. The warrior developed more compassion and the neurotic healer found a strength she didn’t know she was capable of. Because of this they developed a strong bond even though the two of them couldn’t be more different. From the two of them I realized I needed both kinds of strength if I was going to grow in my running and in my life as well.
Thriving Like A Plant In Someone Else’s House
Strength comes in all different packages and all of life doesn’t have to be about just surviving what it throws out way. It’s about living and thriving too. I’m so much more mentally strong as a runner, a mother, a friend and a human because of this. I am proud to have friends all from different backgrounds, all very different from me, and all very strong in their own right. And I’m very thankful to learn lessons from them every day.