Just how Tough are you?

I was reminded that I’m a tough old bird. Toughness is not easily achieved. Your hands callous when they’re used daily on hard physical labor. Picture the hands of a farmer, or a gymnast, or bricklayer. The skin gets tough to the point of nerve damage. The toughness protects the rest of the hand from damage–the muscles, the nerves that provide the ability to open and close the hand, the bones. It is constant or nearly constant friction that callouses up a hand.

The toughness when it comes to pain tolerance is gained the same way. I had congenital hip dysplasia. That’s when you have shallow or missing hip sockets. When I was about 2, I had a manipulation where the top of my femur was put into position in order to carve out a hip socket. I spent months in a cast and moved on to braces. Then for my elementary school years, I had to wear orthopedic shoes. Oh, LORD were they ugly. I didn’t get my first pair of tennis shoes (that’s what we called them) until I was 6th grade. I took ballet so that my feet and legs would get stronger. My hips didn’t work like the other kids’.  I could never sit cross-legged. It was most uncomfortable and I had a devil of a time trying to maintain an upright position. About the time I was 12, my hips started to hurt. By the time I was 39, it felt like ground glass…every step.

In 1989, I opened a dance studio and was dancing about 3-5 hours a day on this ground glass. But with the range of motion exercises, the lubrication of the joint allowed me to still use it. I swear, I would have been in a wheelchair if I hadn’t had the ballet. I had my hip replaced in 1993 and that operation reduced the range of motion for my hip. I was restricted to 90-degree bend in the hip, and the rotation was minimal. This kept me from teaching dance. So I closed my studio. I needed work, so I started in fast food. The pain I felt from changing weather now changed its locus to mid-thigh where the spike ended. But it no longer felt like broken glass!!!  YAY!

I have now had 3 operations on my hip. The pain will be with me forever, and I will always limp. It acts as a barometer, so if the sky is green, and the wind is from the south, and the back door buzzes on a G, no problem. But if in addition, my leg feels like someone has taken a ball-peen hammer to my thigh, head to the basement! I now have a high tolerance for pain. It means that I’ve developed a callous on my pain threshold. I have taught myself to ignore the pain. Just like I’ve taught myself to ignore the ringing in my ears. 7 years on a headset. I went from “Hi! Welcome to Wendy’s! What combo can I get for you today?” to “Hello, Ameritrade, This is Rebecca. What trades can I place for you today?” It took every ounce of self-control (and I don’t have a lot of it) not to add, “You want fries with your 50 shares of McDonald’s?”

We’ve covered pain and annoyances. But what does it take to become mentally tough? Friction. It’s when you try and fail, and learn something, then you try again, and again, and again, until you have things just like you want them. There are books about mental toughness. Business Icons, Coaches, Philosophers, Psychologists. They all have their 33 steps and 77 characteristics and whatever. It’s just the one thing: Don’t quit when you fail. Notice the word “When” because if you don’t fail, you don’t learn anything. You will fail. You’re supposed to. It’s a first draft; it’s an experiment; it’s something new you’ve never even dreamt about. Each time you try, you add more information to the picture you have in your head. The picture gets clearer with every act. But each time, there’s that friction. You have to push against something and you get tough in your brain. You change your perspective because you can see progress. You change your approach because now you see multiple paths. You seek out help in areas you wouldn’t have considered before because each try brings more information you have to gather and new skills you must master in order to succeed. The nice thing is this: because you’re tough, you continue to make progress and because you don’t back down, you don’t have to start from 0 every time.

When was the last time you had to be mentally tough? I think the most challenging was when I lived in a small town. I owned a dance/music/art studio so I taught from 3:30 pm to about 6:30 pm every day for dance and music lessons. I worked the 5-2 shift at Hardee’s 5 days a week. I was the church choir director and did that on Wednesdays from 7-9 and directed every Sunday. And I worked at a truck stop from 3:00 to close  Saturdays and Sundays. I had 5 kids at the time. Did I get what I wanted? Yes.

The most important thing you have to confront is how much Friction you want to take on. No toughness comes without friction, you have to determine how tough you want to be.


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