What does being strong look like?

I hope you know it is okay if your strength looks a little different in this season.” ~ Morgan Harper Nichols

Rosalind Walter died last Thursday. She was the red-lipped, muscle bearing Rosie the Riveter, who stood as a symbol of women in the workforce and in the bigger picture, women’s independence.

International Women’s Day happened to fall just a few days later on Sunday.

I’ve always loved the image of Rosie, from her red and white bandana against the bright yellow background to her flexed arm and “We can do it” glare.

Of course we all know, or should at a certain point of our lives, that physical strength isn’t going to be the single quality that propels us forward the fastest. Unless you’re a middle school bully or an adult who never quite lost the thrill of being a middle-school bully. Or maybe a kick-boxer.

After years of research via lots of mistakes and a pile of misjudgments, I feel some level of confidence defining strength.

I don’t take this lightly because every person – every woman – is different. We’re the only ones qualified to tell our own story. But for the sake of women as a whole, it would make sense to find some common ground on the definition.

Maybe the reason I take the idea of defining strength so seriously is because I am trying to raise women for the next generation and it’s bound to look different on them than it does on me or anyone else. I’m not always the example I would hope my daughters would see and I know I won’t always seem strong. I’ve had to adjust and fall and try new things. Just like everyone else.

We all have so much in common.

So here’s how I see it.

Strength is kindness. That’s not a weak word. That’s not a weak character trait. It’s what we all want to encounter every single day for ourselves and especially for our girls. It’s not always easy to be kind, but I can’t think of many qualities that leave a more powerful impression.

Strength is taking care of our own first. I like to think this means worrying less about everyone else. Not in the sense of less concern for other people; more of the sense of finger-pointing and wasting time. Working and parenting and making lunches (Again? It’s like they expect food every day) all take time. On top of that there are stomach bugs floating around, the car is back in the shop, the sidewalk needs to be shoveled because Mother Nature hates us all, and the dog is in the litter box again. There’s enough to think about every day. It seems like holding our own stack of insecurities in one hand and a pile of commentaries on how everyone else is doing it wrong in the other isn’t quite the balance we’d be searching for. Deciding who’s doing life wrong is taking up our resources.

Strength is being an adult about it. About all of it. Respect, blame, happiness, unhappiness. I read an article that said being chronically unhappy is a result of immaturity and being that “adultier adult”, whatever our age because we’re all faking it anyway, is going to take accountability.

Strength means a tighter circle. There’s strength in numbers but there’s also power in smaller, more deliberate numbers. The power that comes from deciding it’s ok to not meet everybody’s expectations today, to care just a little bit less about something. And to care just a little bit more about your personal circle.

In the quest to be a “good enough” role model for my girls, I only want to lean on the people who make me feel stronger, whether I’m acting from strength, weakness or somewhere in between.

Rosie the Riveter’s image has always been a force, but especially so this year as her death coincides with International Women’s Day. I envy the courage it must have taken for her to get a foot in the door and on the floor. It’s something I haven’t had to worry about thanks to the decade I was born into.

I don’t know every aspect of her story but I know she figured out how to be her kind of strong, which made it easier for all of us in our time. And then my girls. And then their girls…

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