Where Does Strength Come From?

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“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” – Corrie ten Boom

Millions of people live in anxiety. Be it from their jobs, family life, or just plain insecurity, anxiety is a large part of modern life. Often times at the heart of this anxiety is the unknown. Not knowing if we have the strength to overcome life’s challenges.

So why am I bringing this up today? Inspiration – in the form of two emails – from two extraordinary people.

Catherine Strus’ life has been anything but typical. She’s excelled at competing since she was a child. I have met very few people with her drive and certainty of purpose. This morning she gifted me with some insight regarding a recent cycling race she competed in,

“Yesterday did not go as planned, and I was a little disappointed by the result but then I reminded myself that I took on a very large challenge, and every time I try something new or take on a challenge that is just above my limit, I will most likely fail before I succeed… The act of trying is greater than any accomplishment because it means you are putting yourself out there to be better and just by doing that you are winning… yesterday was a failure in my books, but I don’t see that as a negative! I didn’t win… but I finished the race because I was determined to see what I could do and I wanted to see what my best effort looked like. It was the hardest 5 hours of my life, but in the end, I finished… So when I look at that, I realize that my day was a complete success! Results-wise my race was a failure, but my personal mission to start and finish something was a success!”

She continued, “… failing over and over again can wear us down. It’s so easy to give up and judge our performance; to see everything as a failure because we aren’t where we want to be. But it’s that inner strength, perseverance, and belief that gets us to the end goal. If you wholeheartedly believe in something, and you just keep learning, growing and trying, then you will succeed. This is what makes the triumph so sweet. It’s worth it in the end but you have to be willing to adapt, change, make new plans, re-route, accept the failure and build yourself back up over and over again.”

The second email was from a once-in-a-lifetime gem, Dean Sampano. Dean has been my inspiration for the past 10 years. He’s quite simply the closest thing I have met to someone who just ‘is’. The ebbs and flows of life don’t take him off course… they are his course. I received this story from Dean (coincidentally) a short time after Catherine’s email,

“The Great Earl Nightingale tells of his visit with his son at the Great Barrier Reef which stretches nearly 1800 miles from New Guinea to Australia. When suddenly, he noticed that the coral polyps on the inside of the reef appeared pale and lifeless. Yet the coral on the rough side of the reef was beautiful and filled with vibrant colors that blossomed with tremendous life! ‘Why’, Nightingale asked, ‘is there such a difference?’

‘Simple’, said the son, ‘the coral on the outside of the reef is forced to face the surge of the waves and the full power of the sea and thus grows strong as it fights to reach its full potential. While the coral on the tranquil shore side of the reef dies rapidly because it has no challenge to force it to fight for survival.’

And so it is true with every living organism on earth. No man, woman, or child is immune from this truth. For if we attempt to run or hide from life’s greatest tests, we are certain to grow weak and frail. Yet, if we choose to test ourselves under the adversity of life, we will grow stronger and evolve. The choice is ours alone.”

Both Catherine and Dean brought light to the same theme. Life is about testing our limits. It’s about developing the strength to handle all life has to offer.

If ‘success’ was a certainty, life might be easier. You might be comfortable. You might not have anxiety. You’d have the strength to overcome obstacles because the challenges would be trivial. Yet you would be paying a steep price. You would lose the growth that occurs from testing your limits. And isn’t growth what success is all about? When was the last time you felt alive when your story was already written?

Testing your limits evokes that feeling you get when you meet someone special. You have that excitement in your stomach. You fall head over heals. Are they interested? Will they call? People often lament about losing that rush later in a relationship. Where does that rush come from? Uncertainty.

The spice of life is not knowing. Not knowing if they’ll call. Not knowing if your product will be a hit. Not knowing if your boss will like your report. Not knowing if you’ll win the race. Like it or not, without this uncertainty, life would be like the inside of a coral reef, ‘pale and lifeless’.

Anxiety and excitement are chameleons of the same physiological response. It’s our perspective that allows our excitement to make us stronger, or allows our anxiety to sap our strength.

It’s a choice…

Strength is a choice. Strength is developed when you put yourself out there. Strength is developed when you accept a challenge that will take you beyond your previous limits. Striving for more than the status quo is the only way we grow. So if you want to become stronger, you need to get in the ring.

Although writing this post is therapeutic in its own right, it does not preclude me from staring at the ceiling, unable to quell the fearful voices in my head. While I would appreciate it if these voices gave me a break from time to time, they remind me that I’m off the beaten path. I’m in unchartered territory. Uncertain territory.

Life is like a tug of war. The tougher your opponent, the stronger you need to become to come out the other side. If the challenge is too easy, you won’t grow. And what is the point of winning if you don’t grow from the experience? Simply winning won’t help you achieve meaningful things in life. Growth will.

The troubling irony is that the narrative you keep telling yourself – ‘once I get there I’ll have made it’ – is a lie. The truth is that you ‘made it’ the minute you decided to get in the ring and find YOUR superhuman potential. If life is about growth, and happiness is the growth you experience in pursuing a meaningful goal, then once you overcome this challenge, you’ll need another challenge. Otherwise, you would just exist, and cease to live.

That’s why the adage, ‘Love the journey’, needs to be true. Happiness needs growth. Growth needs the journey. Don’t just be grateful for the journey. Embrace it.

So, there you have it. All you need to do is throw yourself out there. Search for uncertainty. Feed off it. Derive strength from it. And get ready to struggle, be scared as hell, and have constant doubts. Get ready to grow.

Progress comes from people like you. People who need more from life. And trust me, you’re not alone. You’re not the only one scared as hell. But you can take comfort in the irony that being scared as hell is heaven if you so choose.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” ― Friedrich

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