kate adametz jenkins

Strong Back. Soft Front.

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?

Strong Back:

  • 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.

Soft Front:

  • 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.

4 thoughts on “Strong Back. Soft Front.”

  1. Kate, I shared your post on my Facebook page. Your post is a very thoughtful, and I believe very wise, description of being strong, yet soft and vulnerable. I am in the process of evaluating my own feeling and actions in light of this. Setting firm boundaries has always been difficult for me and this has led to feeling cut to the core at times in my life. My soft heart has led to protective walls at times, for fear of being crushed. I was also a first born and experienced some of what you described in your young years; I was raised to care for others and to be of service but was not encouraged to take care of myself in the process. I can see that my parents had the strong value of helping others and of being accommodating yet not setting their own boundaries; somehow the idea of setting boundaries or limitations of what we would do (even at great personal emotional and financial cost) was deemed to be “selfish”. I have always been and still am conflicted with this idea. Thank you for sharing this . . . I am “strong” in many ways, and yet extremely vulnerable to criticism or rejection. I was raised to be compassionate and tender and I love that about myself, yet it has led to some great pain in my life.

    1. Kate Adametz Jenkins

      Ruthann, thank you for sharing your reflections and vulnerability of your own experience. You are spot on in your mention of boundaries being key and how being brought up to care for others somehow often translates to prioritizing others ahead of ourselves. I too have just begun to intentionally implement boundaries and have found it hard, yet my work as a coach, mom, healer and space-holder simply requires self-care. I can’t be of service to others if I’m out of gas myself or even depleted. Again, Brene Brown offers a straight up approach for boundary setting that I’ve put into to practice- getting clear on and communicating what’s ok and what’s not ok. Lately this is helping me with boundaries for when I say yes and when I say no. For example, I know I’m out of integrity when I say yes to doing something someone requests, but then feel resentment, over fatigued, or general crusty-ness. So for me, an internal boundary of it’s ok to say no if it’s not a ‘hell yes!’ That helps me prioritize my wellbeing and value to be of service. So when asked to do something extra, the practice is to Give Myself Permission to check in; if I have the emotional or energetic wherewith-all, I accept, if I do not, I decline. What is ok and what is not ok for you? Two steps here: give yourself permission and practice.
      Empathy, compassion and air hugs to you!

  2. Thank you for allowing Katie to tell a little bit of her story. This is but one page of what could easily be an extremely empowering book.

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Julie Stephenson

Julie is one of the founders of Compounding Courage, a company that provides personal growth and leadership development programs. CLICK HERE to learn more.