By my senior year of college, I was able to do 13 consecutive pull-ups. I realize this is a weird thing to brag about, but for someone who could barely do one three years prior, I was really proud of myself. That was the thing about being in a circus – we had to train to be strong. And there was no guy training and girl training. Sure there were act-specific trainings (I had to do more ab work for my aerial act than, say, the jugglers), but overall we were all treated the same. We had to do pull ups. We had to carry the giant aluminum poles around the tent. I mean, even some girls did guy acts (and vice versa). It was hard, yes, but also nice being treated similarly.
I was used to this, though, because my parents – specifically my dad – never treated me inherently “girly.” Yes, I had dolls and Barbies and an awesome Easy Bake Oven (all of which I LOVED), but my dad also taught me to use tools and throw overhand and block my brother’s snapshot into our hockey net.
But being strong isn’t just doing a crazy amount of pull ups, and I learned that as I grew up. It was making decisions, and sticking to them. It was sticking up to others, something I wasn’t very good at for a long time. (In elementary school I was convinced to trade one of my favorite stickers to another person in order to be friends. We didn’t become friends, and I never saw my sticker again. Sigh.) I was (and still am, to a degree) a people pleaser. It was how I made friends. I went along with things I wasn’t always pleased about, because I didn’t want to let anyone down. And whenever my parents noticed it, they would interfere and try to get me to stand up for myself. But I wasn’t that kind of strong. Not yet.
But after losing and gaining friends, I realized which ones were right, which ones i’d risk my life for, and which ones I knew wouldn’t last. And I realized these tried and true friends would never like me less if I said no. So I learned the word. I learned to embrace what I believed. And I never lost someone I cared about in the process. I didn’t go to parties I felt uncomfortable at. To this day, I’ve never smoked (nor done any illegal substance), even though I could have multiple times. I just didn’t believe in doing it, and found ways to say no. This was my new way of being strong.
In the books I write, you won’t find a girl saving the world. She’s never wielding an ax or the hammer of Thor; she’s never bringing down the government. But you will see her struggle. You will see her question what she believes. But, ultimately, you’ll see her be strong in tough situations, especially when with friends. You’ll see her make hard decisions. You’ll see her be scared and brave and do what she feels is right, even when it might not ultimately be.
Because, to me, that’s the ultimate definition of strength.
(Okay, that at 13 consecutive pull-ups.)