When I was younger, I never knew the meaning of true ‘strength.’ I was always running—from something, someone, from anything that scared me, really. I ran because that was my defense mechanism. Because I could never tell if something was good for me, or unhealthy. If someone truly loved me, or was just trying to manipulate me. So I ran.
I found strength in running. That felt easier, somehow, than facing the unknown. It took a long time for me to realize I was pushing everything away, though. And as I grew and got out of the craziness of my young adulthood, I learned strength—though not something I had felt inherently in my chest—was within me.
And as I grew, as I wrote, as I developed my inner voice—I found my outer one.
I found the voice to stand up to injustice, to speak out against unfair treatment, to share my heart with the world. I found the voice to push back against what was hurting me, or to learn who I was with a label of ‘strength’ rather than fear.
And then I started to identify myself with this strength. I started to finally be proud of being a ‘strong woman,’ and celebrated that title. To feel and be strong was an honor. And I loved that.
But just about a year ago, a coworker challenged my perspective of strength. She said something along the lines of labeling certain women as ‘strong’ is to say that not all women are strong, which is to divide rather than bring together. Her point was that in calling some people strong, it implies that not all women are born with strength. And suddenly my perspective was shaken.
And then recently, another coworker wrote an incredible piece about how she felt she wasn’t strong—and how that was okay. It shook me to the core.
I had never meant for my strength to be something that put me above the rest. I was never trying to say that there were some women who weren’t strong in comparison. But does my strength mean that someone else is not strong—whether a woman or man?
In my opinion, absolutely not.
To be strong—does that mean you’re fully independent? Does that mean you’re capable, and don’t need anyone else’s help? Does that mean, in being a ‘strong woman,’ I’m pushing men away under the ‘I can do it myself’ mentality—thinking that I’m fine without anyone else (even though I still want to be loved)?
I don’t ever want my strength to keep a man from loving me.
I don’t want my strength to ever intimidate, or push someone away.
The other day I saw a video about this exact thing: ‘The Confident Female Mindset’ by Matthew Hussey. He was talking about strong women, and how women are actually wrong when they think that being strong is doing everything on their own.
He said that being a strong woman is knowing that you can do everything on your own, but choosing to accept help, choosing to let someone help you.
It made me think about my own life, about my own decisions, about my need to do things independently, even if they’re semi-dangerous. (Like walking home from bars alone at night, or trying to get in the middle of my male friends to keep them from fighting).
Maybe, in some ways, he’s right. Maybe asking for help, or not trying to do everything on my own, or being looked at as ‘precious’ or ‘treasured’ or ‘delicate’ doesn’t necessarily mean I’m weak.
But instead makes me strong.
Strong enough to own my identity, even when someone tries to help. Strong enough to know that I don’t have to, shouldn’t have to face the world alone.
Strength, I’m learning is not simply running, not simply overcoming the pain of your past. It’s not a defense mechanism, or thinking you can survive without anyone’s help, or trying to prove yourself to the people around you.
Strength is learning to find a balance, an identity. It’s learning that we are all strong (and in our own ways). And maybe life is simply a journey to discover how and where we fit—and ways to own that inherent strength—without stamping out anyone’s light, and while learning to let others in.