I tried to get all cute and come up with a clever title. That really didn’t work. But, today I want to talk about strength – or more so the perils of strength and others’ perceived notions of “strong individuals.”
I’m touted as one of those “strong black women” many days. I’ve heard it often. I even believe it’s true. Friends have told me this – although they call me a creampuff (Henry). But that’s more about how my heart goes out to people and how I relate to them. There’s nothing I can do about it. There is strength in an open heart right?
Equally, I am surrounded by men and women, who in many ways are like me. They do too much for too many people – with no ROI (return on investment). That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with helping people – there isn’t. Nothing wrong with being strong. Nothing wrong with having the capability, resources and means to help others.
There are a few caveats.
I have come to understand when people see people who are strong they tend to fall back and not jump out there to assist. I think this happens with men and women. People come to rely on the strong: that we’ll fix it, we’ll get it done, we’ll be there, we’ll hold things together and we’ll keep it all together – while still holding ourselves together, pursuing our own desires, living life and living up to those expectations and demands of others. I don’t necessarily think being seen as a strong black woman is necessarily beneficial. Mostly because others tend to heap their burdens into my proverbial lap. There is a price to pay for it. In the wake of trying to feed ourselves and take care of our families, you mean to tell me I have to “be strong” and “hold it all together” too? I call bullshit.
Fact is there is peril to being strong. For as many benefits there are, it seems like there are equally the same amount of concerns. I’m here to say, this isn’t an optimal place to be, nor can the pace be kept forever. All of us have to learn our boundaries and where to begin and where to end. If everyone is always tugging at me in a room and I’m the most desired in the room, I’m in the wrong room(via TD Jakes). By the way, I left that room some time ago. Being strong isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. People tend to overlook strong people because they think we don’t need anything. That’s so far from the truth. In fact, I’d like to say most of us who are “holding it all together” so to speak are the ones who need love just as much as others – if not more.
I think many of us touted as the strong ones who get our hearts broken – we still remain strong for the sake of everyone around us. I’ve pretty much tried to give that up too. If I need to cry, then I’m going to cry and if you happen to catch me in a moment when things are falling apart, then it is what it is. I mean, I cry, I break down. I need people to look out for me as well. But because most people have rarely ever seen tears stream from my eyes, if they do, it makes folks nervous. But I’ve learned the strongest people need an amazing team of people they can trust. So who’s on your team? I mean let’s look at Michelle Obama. She’s our quintessential go-to woman of strength – or at least she’s mine. I can’t imagine the things she’s had to endure within public eye and under public scrutiny. She has a team. She has her family. She has people surrounding her to help her.
Really, the point of this post is to expose the fact that strong people need support as well. In other words, just because someone looks like they have it all together, doesn’t mean they’re not struggling. Go back and read what I said again. Stop sitting around like there’s nothing you can do to help folks. The excuse gets old. She doesn’t need anything. He has everything. She looks like she’s doing fine. He’s always together. How do you know? You think because the person has all the trappings of success they don’t need anything? Have a seat.
People always need something – maybe they need you to show up more. How about just showing up period? How about being present when you show up and not tuned in to the TV or your iPhone? How about running errands for the person? Bringing a bag of groceries over. How about you start dinner sometimes? I mean – the premise of it is to make a person’s life better, easier. Do you live with someone? Are you married? How about just doing something WITHOUT them having to ask for things to be done.
Strong people become weary too. And when we break down, often we are the epicenter of everything. What happens when we stop? Is that where we really want to position ourselves? Is it that important for us to be needed that we can’t let others in to help us? Strength can be renewed but love is at the core of that renewal. And this sort of love I’m talking about is an action-based love and not one based on lip service. In Exodus when the Israelites found the Amalekites, every time Moses held his arms in praise, the the Israelites were winning. When he lowered his arms (because he was weary), the other side began to win. So his brother Aaron and Hur held his arms up:
Exodus 17:11-12 it says, “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.
When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it.
Aaron and Hur held his hands up–one on one side, one on the other–so that his hands remained steady till sunset.”
And that’s my entire point. Moses was strong. He may not have always been confident, but he had an Aaron to hold his arms up when he became tired. Hold someone’s arms up tonight. Even if you think they don’t need it. I see so many of us who support our families and do all of this work and there’s no one supporting us.
I’m going to also toss in a message to my strong folks out here – we have to allow people the space to help us as well. Give someone the room to hold your arms up for you and help you. Stop trying to do everything all the damn time. If someone extends a hand and you know the gesture is in kindness, allow for them to help. Many of us get into this trap of being control freaks. We need to surround ourselves with people who are worthy of our trust and we can depend on when we need to turn to them. Refer to my being the most sought after person in the room.
We have to be able to have people we can go to in times of need. Have you cultivated it? Or have you trained everyone that you are in charge and have to do it ALL? I’m not there any longer. I welcome the help and the support these days. Most times because the people in my life have my best interest at heart. I can trust them.
So, a couple of action items here – if you have someone in your life who’s the person always in charge and doing things for people (and you) ask how you can help them. It sounds like this: How can I help you? What can I do for you today? By the way – the first time you ask, they’ll probably be so shocked and will probably turn you down. Ask again. And then again. Be sincere. And if they can’t tell you how to help them, then you need to study them and figure it out. I’m sure you can do it. If you mess it up, don’t worry. Try something else. The point is you have to at least put yourself out there and try.
If you’re one of the folks who thinks people aren’t helping you enough – ask for it. But I want to make sure you ask the right people. Who’s always there for you – even when you don’t call? They want to help you. Ask them for their help. If they can’t, don’t get upset. But I want us to be able to get better at asking for help. Not being afraid of being a burden to someone because we too need help, love and all of those other things we give out. Some of us want to be seen as so perfect we’re afraid to reach out to people and say – “Hey, I need you. I need your help.”
I will say firsthand I KNOW how hard this is. I tend to do it all on my own because I’ve been so disappointed in the past. But you know what? Now in my 37th year I understand there are times when I just need to ask people for help, for advice, for time, for their presence and even just a hug or a kiss - and be ok with the fact I need it.
I’m working on all of the above. Everyone needs help. Everyone needs someone to be there for them. Even me – the queen of not needing help. Just a short note on this Tuesday evening. I would love to hear your thoughts. Always feel free to comment below or send me an email at fromraewithlove at gmail dot com.