Guest Post by Kate Adametz Jenkins
Just like the song from the Greatest Showman, This is me. I have to admit when I first read this concept, I immediately related to the more literal physical aspects of this concept. My back is indeed fairly strong, but my front, is quite honestly, soft. Thankfully, my husband loves both my strength and softness so I’m mostly ok with it. But what is Brene Brown getting at with this? To me, it’s about standing for something while staying open, curious and vulnerable. It’s the tension of holding both of these seemingly contrasting things at the same time. Here’s the thing, as women, whether knowingly or unknowingly we are quite natural at this. For example, my mom modeled this in that her values were so strong, she was extremely strict about certain things like being respectful, following directions, doing quality work, and being a good human, but when it came down to one of us getting hurt, feeling sad or needing comfort, she was compassionate and showed unconditional love. She taught us that even when we screwed up and fell down, we would be held accountable and she loved us unconditionally at the same time. I remember once in response to some sassy teenage comment, she said, “I’ll love you forever, but I don’t like you very much right now.” She was both soft and strong.
As a mom myself now, my strong back is a solid sense and understanding of values, but boundaries is my playground. I’m working on building more confidence to speak up and communicate what’s ok and what’s not ok. My soft front is being open, curious and vulnerable. I’m naturally inquisitive, a lifelong learner, and life coach, so being open and curious is both a strength and passion of mine.
Vulnerability on the other hand? Not so much. Us two, we’re just getting acquainted.
Here’s why. I’m the oldest of 5 kids, first grandkid on both sides of a huge family, identify as female, a Virgo, raised Catholic and on a farm. So my oldest tapes are, be good, don’t screw up, don’t disappoint, don’t rock the boat, and for the love of God… DON’T FAIL. Others look to you so set the example, get it right, get good grades, get along, get it perfect. I actually did pretty darn well . . . until I didn’t. Until I got divorced. I was married, had 2 babies and divorced by 30. Ugh. Hello Failure.
But I learned from it, as I’m sure many others who have been through it have learned as well. Low and behold, turns out, I’m not perfect and sometimes you have to muster the courage and Strong Back to make the decisions that are best for you even if it may be disappointing to others.
In the end it was not only the absolute right decision, frankly it was damn liberating. I also learned that I can survive it and the experience of my soft exposed front actually strengthened my back. I learned to let go of caring so much about what others thought. I also learned to accept help from others, having the fortunate benefit of a family support system, and in particular my sister, to remind me of who I was and help me muster the courage to get through the messiest of middles.
How to cultivate a strong back and soft front?
- Get clear on your top values. These are what you stand for. When we’re clear on that, it helps to support us to be better grounded in them when shit happens.
- Get clear on what you really want to have happen? What is your intention?
- Know your boundaries, what is ok and what is not ok.
- Cultivate compassion and loving kindness for yourself, especially when you fall down.
- Practice and become comfortable asking for what you need and in turn allow others to ask for what they need without judgement.
- Practice generosity in the interpretation of others’ intentions.