Fake toughness, or the facade of having it all together and being a badass, is rampant. Over the past five years, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the proliferation of the fake variety, and what the real variety entails. So much so, we wrote a book about it (Do Hard Things). Toughness isn’t walking around with your chest puffed out trying to intimidate. It’s making the right decision under uncertainty and distress. Strength isn’t yelling and shouting. It’s having the inner resources to navigate storms
Developing true toughness and real strength is a paradox because it almost always requires being weak. If you want to learn how to make wise decisions under distress and how to navigate storms, then you’ve got to open yourself up—definitely to yourself and sometimes to others. You’ve got to get raw.
Why are you doing what you’re doing? What’s the real motivation behind it? Is it in alignment with how you perceive your innermost self? Do your actions come from a place of fear or from a place of love? If fear, can you at least recognize that? Can you gain the courage to confront it? To explore it? Perhaps even to share it with others? (This, by the way, is precisely how fear gets converted to love.)
Opening up is strength. Closing down is weakness. The rigid posture—muscles flexed, beared-down—that we conventionally associate with strength is actually quite closed and thus often signifies weakness. The opposite, open and inviting, accepting of and ready to confront whatever is there, almost always represents strength. The more you become aware of the difference between real strength and the facade of strength, the easier it is to spot and tell the two apart.
“What looks like weakness is actually where your strength lies,” writes the ever-wise Jon Kabat-Zinn. “And what looks like strength is often weakness, an attempt to cover up fear; this is an act, however convincing it may appear to others, or even yourself.”
Strength that comes from opening up is hard. Being vulnerable is hard. But, as we’ve written before, vulnerability doesn’t come from trust, trust comes from vulnerability. So, if you want to be able to trust yourself in all situations you’ve got to go to that place of vulnerability. And if you want others to trust you in all situations you’ve got to take them there with you. This is why real strength and real toughness is so damn hard. Anyone can bang out endless pushups and puff out their chest. Few are willing to do the real work, the inner work.
If you enjoyed this brief foray into fake toughness versus the real kind, check out our latest book, Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and The Surprising Science of Real Toughness.