Over the years there has been an evolution of sorts of a particular word that I’ve used to describe myself for a long time. That word is strength, or some variation of it.
Strength’s first two definitions are (1) the quality or state of being strong, in particular: physical power and energy, and (2) the emotional or mental qualities necessarily in dealing with situations or events that are distressing or difficult. Many other definitions and variations of strength exist, but we’ll stick with these two.
For the majority of my life the first definition has been most often referred to, most often thought of, and most often sought after. Having played college football, this seems obvious and necessary for me. As a smaller guy overall, having as much physical power and energy as possible was a huge benefit to me on the football field. And trust me, I went after it pretty hard. I could outlast a lot of other guys physically, even though I was certainly not the biggest.
I put in the work. I was tougher and stronger than a lot of other guys.
Now, four years after I played the last football season of my life, that word has begun to take on a different form. Sure, physical power and energy is important to me, but only to a degree. I don’t have much of a say in the matter, actually. This is because during college I herniated a disc in my spine, rendering me basically powerless and unable to exercise at all, let alone compete and outlast other players. Without writing too much about that, I was healed and was able to rehab and regain my strength (first definition) and eventually return to the football field, albeit after a long, tough fight through therapy.
The biggest thing I’m realizing now is that I’m forced to redefine what strength means to me. What it actually means. Because I’m physically unable to do the things I used to be able to do. Nowhere even close. If I tried, I would injure myself pretty badly and be in worse shape than I was before. It’s a struggle to accept the reality that I can’t just do anything I want physically, that I may not be able to outlast everyone, that I may not be the “strongest” out there with the ability to compete with the best athletes.
Strength has evolved into a word that fits more securely within the second definition: emotional and mental. It’s become more of a state of being, a mindset, an internal thing that may not always be visible on the outside. Most things that we face in this life require more of a resolve and a kind of emotional and mental strength to push through, to succeed, to be able to stand tall when all is said and done. Few things actually require us to have exceptional physical power and energy.
I think it’s good to come up against something bigger than us, outside of us, something we can’t just muscle our way through. Realizing how my definition of strength has evolved is growing me and shaping me into a better man, despite my frustrations.