Whenever I go to the gym my testosterone level can’t help but peak over its normal rate. Something about just walking into the gym makes me feel manlier. My chest swells, and there’s a little more swagger in my step. One thing no one tells you about guys in the gym is the secret competition that goes on while working out. I do it. I’ve seen other guys do it. We’re always looking around to see who’s lifting more, or see which guy is struggling the most. Every time I work out I am one of the smallest guys in the gym. That’s not an over exaggeration. I’m 5’6 on a good day and at most I weigh 145 lbs. This used to bother me, but my victory over insecurity recently has me feeling confident. I’m as big as I need to be for the life I want to lead.
The irony of being the smallest in the gym is that I’m rarely the weakest. One of my main entertainments in the gym is working out around the bigger guys and watching the impressed look on their faces as I grab weights that would seemingly be too heavy for me. That’s how I made a friend not too long ago. I don’t know his name so in my head I call him “Asian with the comb over”. He’s about 5’11 and no less than 200 lbs. of muscle. Our first conversation started after I had finished a set, benching about 185 lbs. I noticed him glancing back at me frequently. When I finished he looked over and said, “I didn’t think you could get it up.” To which I smiled and responded, “I’m stronger than I look”. We had a conversation about different workouts and he talked about how guys go to the gym to look strong, but don’t actually take the time to become stronger.
Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, or maybe I just over analyze everything but this conversation opened a parallel into emotional strength. So many of us want to look strong as opposed to actually being strong. If you had asked me a couple of years ago what strength looked like, my answer would have been completely different from what it is now. A couple of years ago I would have told you that strength is never letting anyone close enough to hurt you. Never showing weakness. Being strong meant that no one could ever see even the slightest bit of insecurity. I wanted to be the person that couldn’t be bothered by anything. Being strong meant keeping what’s on the outside out, and what’s on the inside in. My emotions always had to be in check, and always had to have the power. It meant being absolutely anything but vulnerable, especially with my heart. When it came to the things I wanted I made sure to never say them out loud. In my head I was protecting them and myself. If this is anything like you, tell me that you don’t feel lonely.
Over the course of time I have learned something about that type of strength. It makes you more hollow, than it does strong. It forms a nest of secrets that eat away at our insides. Never letting anything in or out creates a lonely environment where real strength dies. I don’t know how, but vulnerability has become like a sickness to people. No one wants any part of it. We would rather stand naked in a crowd of people than be naked emotionally. The truth is that you can’t be strong without being vulnerable. I’m sure that is the last thing any of us want to hear. It was for me. But, the times in my life that I have felt the strongest were when my guard was completely down, and all that I had was out in the open. It seems like a backward train of action. But, you don’t become strong by avoiding pain, or looking weak. Strength comes from pushing through both. When you’re working out you don’t skip up to benching 200 lbs. with ease. You have to struggle through 100, 125, 150, etc.
Vulnerability is a frightening concept. Especially, to those of us who have been hurt. Opening yourself up again can feel equal to painting a target on your heart. I wish I could tell you that being vulnerable was painless, but I’d be lying. There’s risk, as with anything that involves the heart. But, if you can find the will to do it you will find that it’s makes it easier for people to open themselves up to you. Vulnerability creates room for honest relationships. The more honest two people can be, the stronger the relationship can become. If there is anything we want, but won’t admit, it’s that we all want people in our lives we don’t have to be strong in front of all the time. We want the freedom to have a breakdown, vent, and cry without someone thinking that we’re weak. A person, or group of people, that don’t force the pressure to have it all figured out all the time. But, we shut people out because we believe being strong means standing alone. Dependency=Weakness. When did we become such martyrs?
If you are continually keeping what’s on the inside in, you’re keeping the people who are willing to be there out. Is it easy? Of course not. Honest relationships aren’t something that just fall into place, they require practice. Trial and error are going to be acquaintances on the road to an honest relationship. You’ll have to struggle through insecurity, doubt, and some pain. But, after enough time and commitment invested in the right places vulnerability will prove itself to be as liberating as throwing a planet off your shoulders. You’ll be benching honesty in no time.
My name is Mario. I don’t have it all figured out. I get scared. I have regrets. I have a past. I’m nowhere near perfect. Now you try…