Becoming Tough... Not Hard
By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.
In his book, "Maximum Achievement," Brian Tracy reports that one of the most important lessons he has learned is that "life is hard." As a high-school "drop out," he believed that success would be easy. After all, people who are massively successful in any endeavor, make it appear so easy. Masterful action always looks easy. But to become a "master" at anything requires hard work and lots of practice. In order to master your life, you may need to become very tough...without becoming hard. Not an easy distinction to make. It's even more difficult to implement as grown-up unconscious habits.
Fine leather is tough, strong, flexible AND soft. Glass on the other hand, is brittle, inflexible and hard. Would you rather be tough like leather, or hard like glass? Here are several suggestions for becoming softly tough without becoming hard and easily broken.
We usually spend the first 18-21 years of our lives adapting to our childhood and its circumstances. Prior to that, we were never "adults." Adapting to adulthood requires we learn new adaptations. Don't spend the rest of your life "getting over" your childhood. Be courageous enough to discover (and accept) "the real you" as an adult. Below are a few suggestions for accomplishing that.
First, update your self-concept to reflect who you are as an adult, not who you concluded you were when you were a child...or even a teenager. Beneath your childhood self-concept is a being that is most knowledgeable, most unique, most powerful, most valuable, most loveable and mostly spiritual in nature. Discover your true nature as a capable adult and you become toughened against outside pressures and stressors.
Secondly, become expressive of who you really are...your "authentic self." Toughness isn't a defensive fa*ade, nor a false "persona." Toughness is confidence in your own self-awareness and expressing your true self in all that you think, say and do. William Purkey once wrote, "Dance like no one is watching. Love like you'll never be hurt. Sing like no one is listening. Live like it's heaven on earth."
Become tough by taking total responsibility for your actions and their effects on others. Recognize that you have an overriding responsibility to those with whom you have any contact. You cannot change others. You can only modify your own response habits. If the impact you have on others does not benefit them...you have become hardened, not tough.
Become open and receptive to whatever life has to offer you. Most of us have learned to protect ourselves through defensiveness. Our defenses may lower our anxiety, but they also shut others out and keep our authentic selves hidden. Defensiveness breaks contact with life. Without such contact, like un-tanned leather, you become stiff and brittle...in a word, "hard." Life will often abrade you, hurt you, and polish you...until who you really are shines through.
Guard yourself without defending who you are. Guarding your inner well-being, nourishing yourself, taking great care of your true self, and avoiding contact with toxic people and situations, all represent self-protection (guarding) while remaining open to whatever life offers you.
When life is hard, love. Unconditionally love. Splash it all around. Love yourself, others, your environment, your relationships, and your God. Love without reservation or conditions. Love with no expectations or value judgment regarding "deservedness." Love under all circumstances. To be able to do that is genuine toughness without hardness.
Don't let life break you! Update your childhood adaptations! Become maximally flexible, tough and soft. Become the fully functioning adult you were meant to be, and enjoy being alive.