The great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. highlighted the need for people to accept 3 qualities through his sermons that are essential for people to truly love each other in his book “Strength of Love”: tough minds, tender hearts, and decisive judgment.

Sometimes, I don’t know my own strength. When I was a child, my father had to sit me down and talk to me, because I didn’t have a sense of how gentle or forceful I was being. I’d punch someone in the shoulder joking around, and it might hurt them a little too much. I’d pet the cat maybe a little too hard, and it would meow and run away. My voice has always projected, and often I’ve been called “the Loud Friend” by parents of friends. I played sports with the boys in grade school P.E.

It all came from a good place, as there was never malicious intent behind it. I’ve always been a lover, not a fighter. Even now, I find that going to the gym and building up my muscle means I have to be extra gentle when I touch people because my muscles are used to flexing and working out. My hugs can be a little on the strong side, but I’d prefer that over some weak one-armed hug. When I hug, I mean it.

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I think of this because an American friend of mine who is currently living in China recently published a Duality blog, and posted about being both tough and tender. She wrote of experiencing a kindness, comfort without condescendence, caring without expectations. She wanted to be tough enough to deal with the flood of emotions that came with opening herself up to being tender, when she’d been tough all her life. It was very insightful, and I wanted to explore that more within my own life.

Nancy Reagan said it best, “A woman is like a tea bag: you cannot tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Bob Marley knows what’s up, too:

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I surely didn’t know my own strength a year ago. I was thrown into the hottest water in my life then.

In May 2013, I didn’t know that I’d soon endure the what-I-call Trifecta of Shit (1. the death of my father and later, my paternal grandmother, 2. a breakup with someone whom I loved a lot but was really hurting me to the point break inside, and 3. a setback in my career advancement via being passed over for promotion at work), all while working in a foreign country and being outside my comfort zone. Yeah, that’s some tough shit.

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I’m still here over a year later. I somehow made it through. I didn’t die, I didn’t crumble, I didn’t compromise myself, and I tried to deal with any issues head on, rather than running away. I handled my baggage and dealt with it, so it wouldn’t come back with me to San Francisco once I left Sydney.

I realized I didn’t need to be strong for anybody, and sometimes I felt like I was not strong at all. It was my journey and I was immune to judgment from people, if only temporarily. I was essentially a walking ball of emotion and fluffy stuff, and my hard exterior had just been shattered by the onslaught of those really tough life events. My protective outer layer had disintegrated, and suddenly my fluff and soft stuff was vulnerable and exposed for everyone to see, or so it felt. Suddenly the “normal” people were really strong, and I was a mess. How could someone like me in this situation hope to be strong, with no defenses or numbness to what could attack me and my feelings? I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other and take it one day at a time.

Now I see that being my genuine, vulnerable, exposed self, allowed me to harness my strength. I remained true to me, and didn’t try to fake being “over it” or “better”. I was raw, but I was real.

That has permeated my life in everything I do now. I love the person I am, because I fought to be her.

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At work, I remain grounded, calm, and maintain perspective when things don’t necessarily go according to plan. I am resilient and genuine. I’ve seen the worst, and so far, nothing has compared to the Trifecta of Shit I dealt with. That realization brings with it a renewed sense of my strength. I made it through that Trifecta of Shit, there will inevitably be more shitstorms, so bring on whatever is next, and I’ll do my best to make it through that too. Give me the best you’ve got. I’m ready. (*knocks on wood*)

Like you’ve sometimes got to be cruel to be kind, you sometimes have to be tough to be tender. Only through learning your own strength can you generate sufficient self-awareness to realize your impacts on others.

When I was much younger, I wrote a poem and one of the lines I penned comes to mind now. “The way I lean decides for me if I will break or bend.” I learned through the Trifecta of Shit that I was not built to break. I can bend in the wind and eventually bounce back to an upright position again. I rooted my choices in the love for myself I must have somewhere deep inside of me, in the ego of not letting people see the first real hard thing I’ve encountered take me down. It sure hit me, and I may have some scars.

I’m still here. Life is my chicken, and I’m gonna go get it.

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