One BCP Reader shares how she uses her challenges to becomes a stronger person.
By Name Withheld
I was sitting in a coffee shop tending to some work when a familiar face passed me by. We exchanged our usual “hey!” and then I continued by thanking her for being so supportive the last time we had met. At that time, she had taken the time to be fully present and hear me out. I hadn’t meant to unload… it had just all come tumbling out. You see, I had been trying to process the shock and reality of what had just happened as I had lost a young family member without warning—at the time my world felt like it was falling apart.
As I recalled our last exchange, the thing I remembered fondly was how she had allowed me to be me—just the way I was! There was no quick attempt to shift into correction mode, as if she was showing up as Superman to somehow cast a magic spell and make all my problems go away.
I told her I was in a far better place now (not that I was living my best life just yet!) since challenge after challenge seems to form a pattern of showing up in my life. Of course, not to the same extent of losing a loved one, but they are ever present enough to test my stamina and emotional strength. Then, she posed a question to challenge me: “Would you prefer a life of innocence and bliss or a life of complexity and difficulty?”
Surprising myself, I blurted out “complexity and difficulty!”
Honestly, I do believe that innocence can be bliss, but I can’t say I know too much of it. From early childhood things were hard, difficult, and challenging. It constantly felt like I could never catch a break.
I believe there is truth to “innocence is bliss.” I’ve experienced it myself when opening up my heart for love. I was innocent and naïve (in a good way) before I got my heart broken the first time. I bared my soul to let someone else in. Now, as a result, I find myself more reserved and slightly more hesitant to expand my heart to make room for a plus one. I do wish I could carry that same youthful innocence when it comes to looking for love. So, you see, I do believe in the beauty of innocence.
Then, I wondered why my knee jerk response was “complexity and difficulty.” It took me a moment, and then I realized that subconsciously, when I heard ‘difficulty’ I immediately interpreted it as depth. Depth is knowledge/power, and power equals strength. Yes, innocence is bliss. But what power is there in that?!
My belief in becoming a strong woman/person is to wire and build resilience. Resilience is built through overcoming adversity and challenges. It’s about not giving up when you want to do anything else but come head-to-head with the challenges you’re facing. The going can choke you till your chin, but if your head is above water, there is always a chance at fighting. My mantra to get me through difficult times is “Nobody becomes great having an easy life.”
Yes, pain and challenge are hard, and to put it in more honest terms, grueling. It first breaks you down and strips you vulnerable, baring all your flaws and the least glamorous possible side of you. It exposes a side of you that you didn’t know existed. When you look in the mirror you can no longer recognize the reflection you see. It’s not something you ideally want to choose, but you are grateful for the person it shapes you to become which would otherwise be impossible to achieve.
While I’m thankful for the hard times for teaching me the definition of strength and shaping me into who I am today, I do wish in moments of real adversity that my life can be blissful (at least sometimes—or just long enough for a good long break!). Sometimes at night, when I close my eyes for bed, I wish I can get/achieve what everyone has/gets in the way they get it—simply, easily and effortlessly. (And if I’m being honest, at times jealous, too).
I’m thankful for my resilient, naturally positive, and good-natured personality to lift me back up when I’m ready. I am one to make lemonade out of lemons, and conditionally train my brain to find the good in what seems like all the bad. I’ve slowly learned to shift my view on challenges and difficulty from all bad/ all odds stacked against me, to a positive catalyst for amazing self-growth and inner work. Constantly honing and fine tuning who I am as a person. Dare I say, I almost prefer the challenges and difficulty I have been through because I can’t imagine the growth and change that has evolved as a result of it.
One of the most important questions someone recently asked me was to define strength. What does strength mean to me? To me strength means three things: 1. Showing up when it’s hard. 2. Not allowing my emotions to control me and 3. Stepping out of my comfort zone to do difficult things.
Have you noticed my interpretations of strength don’t require being happy? Despite the fact that lots of people (including people who think they’re giving me inspiration, but they’re not!) wish that of me. It makes me wonder perhaps if I am unconditionally happy it makes it easier for them when I show up?! (They then don’t need to sit with the uncomfortableness my situation may present.)
You see my belief of achieving happiness is not an instant default setting, but rather a long term goal you achieve by showing up when it’s hard, not allowing emotions to control you (while respecting them) and doing difficult things. This is what empowers you. The taste of victory leads to true, honest, and genuine happiness that makes you a happier person overall.
The next time someone tells you to be happy/strong (to them their interpretation of strength is unconditional happiness without progress to genuine happiness). Know that you are already strong if you are working on achieving your definition of strength. Your work and your progress will manifest long term happiness.
A gentle reminder to those of you who are in awe/ jealous of my strength/stamina (all-encompassing coping skills, can-do-anything attitude, easily adapt and readapt), and my smile I almost always show up with, remember it was a journey I accepted to overcome, so I can become someone pretty great!