Strength Isn't About How Strong You Are

Strength Isn't About How Strong You Are

To hold your fists up to block your face as life reals back for another punch.
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"You're strong for every reason and you matter to so many people. So how could you think you're weak when every time you fall you come back stronger than before? You're brave, my sweet friend, and that's what makes you so godd**n beautiful."
-r.m. drake

I recently had a friend remind me that "a big part of being an adult is caring about your image," and I found myself incredibly floored by such a thought. At first, I found myself arrogantly in denial, responding quickly that I didn't care what others thought of me because they didn't walk in my shoes every day. But the thought lingered in my mind for the rest of that afternoon.

What did others think of me? How is Mikaela York described to individuals that have never met her? I'm sure it starts off as something like, "you know, she's blonde, blue eyes, super talkative and a little loud..." But what do they say beyond that?

When I turned twenty-two last year, my best friend gave me a bracelet from the Little Words Project with the word "strength" inscribed on it. The purpose of the bracelet is for you or someone else to visually portray how you or they view you. So she chose strength, and I was speechless.

How could a simple, beaded bracelet proclaim such a profound viewpoint on an individual? How could a single bracelet tell my story in what she believed to be the most accurate light? But most importantly, how could I be strong if I felt like shattered china?

I still wear that bracelet every single day.

What surprised me; however, was that she was not alone in describing me with the word "strength".

A month ago I participated in an activity with my sorority sisters that entailed over 100 pieces of paper taped to the walls surrounding us. On each piece of paper, a different member's name was typed out in bold cursive, but nothing else. A clean slate. We were then challenged to go around and write words that we believed to best describe whatever person we chose to write about next.

When I finally reached for the paper that contained my name, two words stood out over and over again:

Brave

Strong

At first, I admit I was a little annoyed. Why did people think I was so "strong"?! Is that a cop-out because my dad died? Because I recently decided to proclaim every weakness I have to the universe and anyone that cared to listen?? Aren't I more than that?

And then it hit me. I was receiving one of the greatest compliments from people that interacted with me every day. I'm not just Mikaela York, a Biology major at the College of Charleston, or the blonde haired, blue eyed girl that talks too loud in the library. I was me.

The girl who watched her father die 6 days before his 45th birthday. The girl who had back surgery at 16. The girl who didn't ask for help when she ran out of money for food. Who didn't tell anyone she was suffering, and instead acted as if nothing was wrong when in reality her entire world was crashing.

But you see, my strength didn't come from hiding my weaknesses. Instead, it came the day I decided to speak out about them. To humble myself and use social media as an outlet to broadcast the negative lights in my life instead of simply the positive.

Strength by its very definition does not come from how much weight you can lift or carry. Nor does it come from your ability to stuff any and all emotion out of your own subconscious and remain steadfast, stone-faced, in the middle of a hurricane.

It comes from your perseverance to stand again. To hold your fists up to block your face as life reals back for another punch. To take another step even if all you can do is limp. To crawl when you can no longer walk.

Our strength comes from our decision to find joy in life even when we struggle to see it at first. To search only for the good in life. To remain positive regardless of what negativity drags us down. To become the light others reach for in life. To bear our scars with pride because they make us who we are.

In all honesty, I was shattered china, but I refused to believe that was the end for me. And so I filled my cracks with gold and slowly pieced myself back together into my new "normal".

I am strong because I know my weaknesses, fearless because I learned to recognize the illusion from the real and I am brave because I decided to take another step anyway. And if I can learn to be all of these attributes, I have full faith that you can too.

So here's to the moments that tear us down, for they are what lead us to who we are destined to be.

Cover Image Credit: Mikaela York

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It Took Me 4 Years And $100K To Realize Why Poor Kids Like Me Don’t Go To College

But now that I know, I can't get it out of my mind.

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I grew up poor.

There, I said it. It's out in the open now—I don't come from a family that has a bunch of money. In fact, my family doesn't have much money at all. My single mother works in fast food and does a DAMN good job trying to support herself and the rest of us. A lot of the food my family gets comes from food pantries. We have received government assistance before. I grew up poor, but I haven't let that define me.

Especially when it came to going to college.

I didn't want to let my economic background hold me back from my potential. I wanted to be the first person on both sides of my family to receive my college degree. I wanted to get a better paying job and moving up in socioeconomic status so I don't have to be the "poor" girl with the "poor" family all my life. I'm not really ashamed of coming from a poor family, but I also don't want to be poor my entire life.

For a majority of my college career, I wondered why there weren't many poor students around me at college. I go to a public university, and it's just the same price as any other state school really. Coming from a lower income home, I did receive a lot of assistance, and without it, there's no way in hell I could be here. I know that many other lower-income students can get this same assistance, which really made me wonder why there was such a lack of other poor kids around me.

I mean, everyone posts videos from their nice, upper-middle-class homes on Snapchat over holiday breaks while I go back home to the trailer park.

Everyone can call mom or dad and ask for money when things get rough while I pay for 100% of the things I own because my mother simply cannot afford it.

Everyone walks around in their name-brand clothes while I'm rocking Walmart knockoffs. It's not something I thought about for a couple years in college, but once I noticed it, I couldn't think of anything else.

It took me nearly all four years of college to realize why there's such a lack of poor students at my average, public university. Poor students are set up for failure in college. It's almost designed to be a survival of the fittest when it comes to us lower-income students, and those of us who are deemed the fittest and do make it to graduation day are typically stuck with a lot of debt that we don't have the financial intelligence or support to even think about paying off.

Poor students are in the minority in college, and when you're in a minority anywhere, surviving can be difficult. When it costs $100 just for a 5-digit code to do your homework, it can be hard to stay in school. When the cost of living on campus is $10,000 or rent for an apartment is nearly $500 a month, it can be hard to stay in school. When you don't have a car because you can't save up the money for one and your parents can't help you, it can be hard to stay in school. When you're forced to get a minimum wage, on-campus job that limits your to twenty hours a week, it can be hard to stay in school. When all of your friends don't understand why you can't go out to eat or to the bar every weekend, it can be hard to stay in school. All of these reasons add up to the main reason why poor kids don't go to college—the odds are stacked against us.

I never had shame in my socioeconomic status until I went to college. In my hometown, I wasn't much less than the norm. Now, my home life is drastically different than that of all of my friends. I know that this is something that is never going to change because when I enter the workforce in less than a year, I'll be going in as the first member of my family with a college degree. People will treat me differently when I tell them this, even if I don't want them to. People will treat me differently when they ask where my parents work and I tell them McDonald's. It's an unfortunate reality that I cannot control.

It took me nearly all four years to realize why poor kids don't go to college, but now that I know, I can't get it off my mind.

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5 Tips For Handling A Quarter Life Crisis

Don't know what to do with your life, me either

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I thought I had my entire life figured out; career, graduate school, moving. All of it. But maybe I was wrong. I have already been accepted to graduate school, have my internship/capstone figured out but then I was given an opportunity of a lifetime to do a different internship that made me question if my plan was the right plan for me. It was terrifying, stressful and difficult to figure out what to do because it affects the rest of my life. But there are some tips you can do to keep your cool.

1.    PLAN PLAN PLAN

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Write that shit down. Take a piece of paper and plan out where each path could take you and the steps you need to take to get to each goal on the path. Seeing it all on paper will slow you down and help determine if what you're thinking is even an option.

2.    Talk to people

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Talk it out, talk to your friends, your family, your advisor. Talk to anyone you can about your plan. You will hear other people's opinions and thoughts. They may have thought of a factor that you didn't. It will help you better understand your thoughts when you explain your tornado brain to someone else.

 3.    Be Open

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This was REALLY hard for me. I talked to probably five different people about the change in life choices and heard both positive and negative thoughts. It is important to be open and listen to the negative idea even if it seems like you're being attacked. It will make you think, are you really prepared for 4-8 more years of school (or whatever else it may be).

 4.    Breathe and Stress Relieve 

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YES, this is 100% one of the biggest most stressful decision you have to make but it is also incredibly important that you are patient, and calm throughout the entire process. It is easier said than done, trust me but take five steps back, seven deep breaths and 20 minutes to relieve the built-up stress. Go to the gym, listen to music, paint, do whatever is going to put a smile on your face and calm you. Then come back to the problem with a clear head to think and process all the options.

5.    Don’t be afraid

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It is literally terrifying when you feel lost, and unsure of what to do with your life. Especially if your family is super strict and you want to keep everyone happy. But REMEMBER it is YOUR life. YOUR future. You have to worry about what is the best option for you and what will make you happy in the long run. Even if it is harder and going to take longer. Be concerned about YOURSELF and not what anyone else thinks of you.

Quarter life crises are totally normal and not fun. Don't feel like you're alone or a failure for being unsure. It is good to explore all your options and be the happiest you can be. If that takes a little freak out and some stress so is it. Just use these steps to make the best of it.

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