Once upon a time, I wrote an “F-word series” and today I’m revisiting a word that you have to embrace if you want to be great:
According to Dictionary.com, fortitude is a noun meaning, “mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously”.
Wow. Hard. CORE. Lots of heavy-hitter terms there, did you notice? “emotional strength”, “adversity”, “courageously.”
A difficult skill, and so very much needed in times like these.
But HOW do you cultivate fortitude?
If you’re a parent though, and you’re doing the best you can, then you already have fortitude, at least a little bit. I know, however, that we are tempted to reach out and say, “Ha! Me strong? Strong mommies don’t lash out at their kids. Strong daddies don’t break down in front of their family. Strong parents don’t lose it, or resort to our crutches, like chocolate or beer.”
Well, I whole-heartedly disagree. Your mental and emotional strength lies in your ability to STAY there, after your fit or break down, or indulge-in-chocolate-fest. To push away the bad thoughts and take your kids to the park or the beach or the birthday party or bowling. To, even a for a moment, damn the despair and find gratitude for this family of yours. To look at your spouse, even when you’re not sure where love is at right now, and fight for your commitment or make love or stop a fight.
Fortitude is waking up every day as a mother and father and doing what you gotta do to give your kids a better life.
How do we get fortitude? I’d be lying if I had an easy answer. The best answer for me is that it comes from my faith. But even beside that, there are things I care about so much (my kids, my marriage, myself) that I’m willing to do the hard, ugly, painful, sacrificial work. And to do that, I have to look on the bright side.
That said, there are some things you can put into practice to develop this skill:
- Get up.
If you’re down right now, that’s ok. You’re allowed to grieve. But I beg you, don’t stay there. Give yourself a fixed time to mourn the situation you’re in and then push forward. I remember what seems a million years ago, watching an episode of “Oprah” where they interviewed a woman who had been beautiful but horribly disfigured after being burned alive for 90 seconds in a car she could not escape. She said, “Every day, I let myself cry for 5 minutes.” After that, she’d get over it and move on with her day.I hope you don’t mourn EVERY day, but go ahead and do what you need, just keep moving forward.
- Set a “too high” goal.
Goals take our eyes off our circumstances and firmly place them on what we can accomplish. This builds self-esteem as we move forward toward that stride. As you slowly work your way towards that go, celebrate the progress you’ve made even if it’s small. When you’re halfway there, you’re probably further than a lot of others would have gone…but keep going.This year, I actually want to make new fitness goals. I haven’t thought much about them but dealing with the latest crisis is giving me time to do just that.
- View your pain differently.
You’re in pain and that sucks. The thing is, though, ONLY pain builds character. Happy times are great – and necessary – but they usually don’t bring growth. You want to develop integrity? Then view your pain differently. Drop your self-pity and work that emotion like a muscle to bring out the BEST in you.
- Trust the process.
I have a love-hate relationship with this term. It’s the hallmark phrase of many sports coaches but I think now I get it. You’re not going to be your best overnight. You may only be able to take baby steps right now. And like that woman on Oprah, you may need to cry every day.But trust that your pain and your effort IS moving you forward, and that you are working through garbage you need to work through. In early 2018, I was getting hurt at the gym a LOT. But my trainer who REALLY knows his stuff told me this was a tweak or that a pull, and how to treat it. He admonished me NOT to let the muscle get tight by over-relaxing.
Boy, was he right! The more I pushed through the pain and used it, the better it felt after the initial sting wore off. But when I kicked back and “relaxed” it, it would tighten and just daily activities would be agony. So I stepped up my gym game, modifying the high impact workouts when necessary. I went from going 3x a week to 5-6 times per week.
One year later, I was voted “troop” (or member) of the month by the staff, and my trainer told me to be proud because I’d earned it.
It’s the same with anything, including character. As a Christian, God is working on my character but a little bit at a time. If He’d told me all my sins the day after I was saved, I would not have been able to deal with it. But God’s mercy allows Him to work on me bit by bit. I’m not where I want to be but in God’s hands, I can trust the process.
- Be thankful every day.
I can’t stress this one enough. Some people keep lists. There’s even apps to help. Some say, list 3 or 5 things a day. I just say, “Thank you Lord” the MINUTE I think of something! Are you breathing? Are you healthy? That’s 2 good reasons right here.I’m grateful that even with disabilities, my kids are happy, healthy, and bring joy to other people besides me. I’m grateful that through sickness, economic distress, layoffs, and two special needs kids, with a lot of commitment, dedication, and work, my marriage is solid. I’m grateful that I have a job, I have ambition, and by the skin of my teeth, I still have a roof over my head. I’m grateful to have been led to an area that I love, with great neighbors, an awesome church, fantastic schools, and amazing aides for my kids. And most of all, I’m grateful that I have Jesus in my life to weather the storms for me.
What I don’t have, I don’t need and I’m learning NOT to sweat that stuff. That is making me stronger. I have friends who get it – that this kind of parenting is hard – and who catch me the many times I fall. I have a husband who does that too,. And I have dreams and goals of my own, outside the kids and that gives me hope. And I’m learning that God is bigger than ALL that – the coronavirus, the mortgage, the people who are out to hurt you, the untenable circumstances.
What about you? What brings you strength when you feel too tired to overcome life’s little disasters? What is your source of fortitude? Share, and we can all get stronger together!