As I embark on year 46 of my life I have been asking myself, “what does it mean to be strong?” I will say, my soon to be 46 year old definition of strength is very different from my 26 year old definition of strength. But, not very different from my definition of strength before the world challenged my innocence.
Being a brown-skinned girl, raised primarily, in a single parent household, strength, over the years has been defined as the ability to endure anything, and anyone, placed in my path. For us, life was about survival. I was taught that the world would eat me up and spit me out if I exhibited any sign of weakness, and, “success” meant being educated and financially independent.
For years I thought I was nailing it because, despite any adversity in my life, I was able to get up and go out in the world and “function”. My ability to “function” allowed me to “successfully” raise educated, cultured, “well-rounded” girls, whatever that meant. I was an independent, strong, black woman. Or, so I thought.
Defining strength as the ability to endure in all aspects of my life meant I learned to emotionally detach when it came to matters of the heart. In my educated mind I could control all things, including my feelings and emotions. The thought that I could control my feelings and emotions led to the belief that I had the ability to control the outcome of situations I faced in my life. In reality, this effort to control, for the sake of endurance, led to nothing more than an emotional disconnect between me and the world in which I lived.
My emotional disconnect was not limited to those around me. Endurance also required me to emotionally disconnect from myself. My inner voice, an essential component to true strength, was dormant for years because I had wrestled with it and beat it into submission. And, because I was no longer in touch with the emotional me, I found myself constantly second guessing my decisions and feelings. Ironically, my efforts to be strong by endurance led to the demise of my strength.
Fortunately, over the past several months, as I have embarked on this new journey, I have forced myself to face the difficult questions. Seeking the answers to these difficult questions has forced me to come full circle, and realize, strength, from a life-fulfilling perspective, is not about endurance. In fact, you are probably weaker than you know if you remain in a situation/relationship that requires you to disconnect and endure. True strength is having the ability to place yourself in environments where you are not required to disconnect and endure.
I am no longer teaching my girls that they have to be stone-faced and endure. Such lessons will only harm their emotional well-being. Instead, I want them to stay connected and trust that inner voice and allow it to play a part in guiding them in this world. By doing that they will be able to remain alive, and live a fulfilled, rather than a detached, emotionless life.
My birthday gift to me is to lead my girls by example. I am happy that I have reacquainted myself with my inner voice. My plan is to continue to tune in to that inner voice that has been a wonderful guide over the past several months. And by consistently tuning in, I will be able to identify, and avoid, situations/relationships that require me to disconnect and endure. Thus, living a life full of strength!
Happy Birthday to Me!!!!