We all have people that we look up to. There might be an obvious relationship of guidance as there is with teachers, coaches, and parents. Or it might be less evident. We all have situations with peers and co-workers where we find ourselves admiring another person’s ability to process or deal with something. And sometimes our mentors aren’t directly or personally connected with us at all, but we look up to them just the same. Perhaps you’ve experienced that with book characters, famous personas, or even the incredibly patient mother you witnessed at the grocery store. Everywhere we turn, if we look, we can find people who’s strength inspires us.
I thought I’d shed a little light on how these incredible people get to be so strong in our eyes. I’m spilling the beans!
- People are often strong in our eyes even when they don’t think of themselves as strong. It’s our perception, not some universal truth, that determines how we see those around us.
Let’s take parents, for instance. When we’re young they rule the world. We easily forgive them for the areas they’re lacking in. In fact, we might not even realize they are lacking at all. Until we become teens. Then, almost overnight, we see everything they do poorly. We tell ourselves, our friends, and possibly even them that we’ll never be like they are. And then we become parents ourselves. And we feel like we’re lacking at every turn. We can’t juggle all that there is to do and be and it’s hard. Ready for some truth? Our parents felt like that too – the whole time. They wondered if they were enough to us and for us both when we thought they were everything and when we thought they were nothing. Perception.
The same can be said for any of the people we look up to. That’s why they often act so modest when complimented, I think. While you’re pointing out some trait you admire, they’re thinking in the back of their head about some way they’ve screwed up in their own opinion. Luckily, strong people don’t have to be successful in every area of life to be strong inspirations to us.
- Strong people have been there, done that. I don’t know where they’ve been or what they’ve done – but they’ve lived to tell the tale, even if they don’t.
Maybe they’ve been fired from job after job and just don’t feel like they’ve got what it takes, but they try one more time and find something that fits, something they can succeed at. Getting up again is strength. Maybe they’ve been beaten down physically or emotionally and they’ve moved past it to lead a life they love. Maybe they’ve witnessed someone else be hurt or someone be incredibly kind and harnessed the energy of what they felt to help them be more positive.
Someplace in their lives they’ve made it past, through, or were around something that helped them grow. For some they may wear that struggle on their sleeves, like I do. For others, it may be locked away or only shared with very few. There is no right way to hold onto the reasons we become strong.
I don’t want to gloss over the “even if they don’t” part of this bullet. You may never know what the story is behind the strength you witness in someone. Not everyone shares their story or is even aware of how their history impacts the reserves of strength that they pull from in our eyes. Whether we know what came before, though, we definitely know the stars that shine before us when we see them.
- Strength shows itself in too many ways to count. Physical strength, mental strength, emotional strength, strength of character, relational strength, spiritual strength. Each of these can be broken down further too. No one is strong in every way. Everyone is strong in some way.
Look at athletes and physical strength for an easily identifiable example of the almost innumerable types of strength. Have you seen the commercial with the sumo wrestler ice skating? He’s probably incredible in his own arena, but the skater would look just as silly entering his ring as he does on the ice! Whatever sport or activity an athlete is training for, he or she is focusing on training a specific area of their body to be strong in a specialized way. We have three kids and so far it looks like we’re going to have a swimmer, a football player, and a runner. The ways they naturally use their bodies and want to get strong are vastly different. And right for each of them.
The same applies for strengths we can’t see as easily. Saying no, persevering, quietly enduring, or standing up again and again are all examples of mental strength. Emotional strength might be gritting your teeth, letting go, or letting the tears flow. Some show character strength by speaking up and out, others by giving respect when it might not even be deserved. Relational strength might mean being “better together” and teaming up to create stronger bonds, get more done, or take a stand against a wrong. Or it might mean setting boundaries or playing well with others or being loyal. Strength of spirit might be shown through faith – in self, in God, in love, in the goodness of people. It might speak to our energy and how it ebbs and flows and fills us and those around us.
I really don’t know. Defining what it means to be strong seems equally elusive and easy. I mean it’s obvious. Except when it’s not.
- People who are strong give themselves time to be anything but. Likewise, they don’t do something other than being strong for too long.
“There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.” Alan Cohen, the inspirational author, not the owner of the Florida Panthers hockey team, said that. I think he’s right. The right balance of work and play is a key in being the strongest we can be – whatever that looks like.
There’s so much more that can be said on this subject. Maybe I’ll take it up and write about it more in the future, but that feels like a good place to stop for now. Rest.
Take some time to digest and think about what strength means to you and where you see it in those around you. Don’t be afraid to tell them about it too. Thank them for being the strong one who carries the clothes basket back up the stairs (thanks, Love!) or let them know you admire the strength in character it takes to be patient with that particular customer that everyone tries not to make eye contact with.
Spread the love, inspire those that inspire you, and keep the cycle going strong.