Thursday, October 22, 2009

Weakness as Strength

How we define terms makes a difference. Anthony Robbins once shared a story about a man at one of his retreats who felt like a failure. This man was a CEO, making millions a year and living a life that would seem enviable to most. Yet, his definition of success was so specific and so rigid that since he hadn’t attained every aspect of it, he felt like a failure. Instead of enjoying all that he had, he spent most of his time agonizing over what he didn’t have.

Like many of us struggle with definitions of success and failure, I want to talk about another pair of related words that people have trouble defining, strength and weakness. How we define those two words can have a huge impact on others like success and love.

If we were to play word association with the word strength, you’d probably come up with words and phrases like: independent, powerful, getting things done, emotionally solid, in control, a leader. Likewise, a word like weakness would conger up images like: dependent, cracks under pressure, needing lots of help, becoming a burden, overly emotional, a follower.

But to me being strong is a little more complicated than that. Sometimes strength is admitting that you need help or that you have a weakness (or issue) that needs to be addressed. How many people do you know who have sacrificed marriages, relationships with children, employment opportunities or maybe even their health (physical or mental) because their definition of strength said that being strong meant that you never needed help?

Well, is it strong to watch relationships crumble, and opportunities dry up? Is it strong to watch your health deteriorate when you had in your control the ability to seek and get help? Is it strong to watch the people you love walk away because you can’t show vulnerability? I maintain that seeking help from others, acknowledging weakness and sometimes showing emotion and laying your cards on the table are the strongest things you can do.

I had a friend in college, who I believe could have benefited from professional help. She came from an impoverished and emotionally abusive background and that upbringing colored all of her relationships and decisions. She attracted the wrong men. Her feelings of inadequacy forced her to drop out of college. Her inappropriate reactions at work cost her several jobs. Yet to her, getting help was tantamount to admitting failure and showing weakness. How much stronger could she have been, how different could her life have been if she had shown true strength and sought the help she needed?

Sometimes strength is being that solid leader, but strength is also knowing when to be a follower and knowing when to ask for assistance.

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