Evolution is tough. Human evolution was a lengthy and painful process.
It took approximately 6 million years for us to evolve from our rock throwing ape-like ancestors to our somewhat less ape-like phone holding selves today. 6 million years is a long time folks.
We on the other hand only get 78.69 years on the average to evolve into our best selves.
I need to be lot tougher and a little faster than the pace of the universe. On a few occasions I have had the word tough attached to me. It has arrived in the form of both a humbling compliment and harsh criticism.
Tough runner, tough minded, tough as nails.
Tough to work with, tough to love, tough on people.
The ultimate stereotype for men is they are required to be tough. Traditionally in our culture there has been a certain level of expectation to be a tough guy.
John Wayne shit. Clint Eastwood “Make my day” machismo, Jack Palance dropping and doing a one arm push up at 73 on National TV.
“Anyone can be tough for a season. It takes a special kind of human to rise to life’s challenges for a lifetime.”
― Chris Matakas, The Tao of Jiu Jitsu
My dad taught me how to defend myself before I learned to ride a bike.
He put my hands up in front of my face and threw mock punches at me. He then let me unleash my hardest 4 year old roundhouses on his Popeye size forearms. That ritual played itself out for many years in my household.
He told me never run from a fight, never. Stand your ground even if you get your ass kicked, get your punches in and let them now you were there. It was the kind of advice that you received from your dad that never truly goes away even with age, education and critical scrutiny.
“Let what you reckon to be trouble have trouble troubling you.”
― Christian Essel
Most of the time when I get told I am tough it is usually around my training or racing.
To be completely honest, I’m never quite sure how to feel about it. Yes, I’ve run some tough races. That doesn’t necessarily make me tough. Sometimes, I do some tough training days. A lot of people do, and much tougher than me.
A few times I’ve been exposed to some tough conditions. Maybe I’m just stubborn or stupid or both. So far, I’ve never DNF’d ( did not finish ) a race. Maybe I just haven’t signed up for tough enough races.
When I do hear it, part of me, the old and ancient male wiring in me loves to hear it. A big rare juicy steak to feed the caveman ego. The other part of me knows it’s total bullshit. The reality is I understand at this part of my journey in life that the word needs to be redefined for who I want to become.
So what is tough or toughness for a 55 year old man?
Physical toughness is the alpha male toughness. Competing hurt, bearing the unimaginable. Crossing finish lines others don’t cross.
Mental toughness is the less appreciated one. Cerebral and less obvious to the naked eye. Having an unbreakable spirit and mind.
Then I believe there is real toughness. The one that does not end up glamorized in movies, or reported on ESPN. The kind that is not showcased on a course, in a ring or in a cage.
“Toughness is not hardening, toughness is withstanding all the forces that want you to harden, whilst still retaining your sensitivities and your humanness.”
― Drishti Bablani
These are some of the ones I am attempting to get better at and finding it incredibly challenging by any standards. The ones I’m not very good at but I am training myself to not fail miserably at on a daily basis.
Being kind is tough. Anyone can be kind to the people we love and love us. I’m talking about being kind to the people who don’t like you. Who judge and blame and point fingers and hate you for good reasons, bad reasons or no reason. Being kind especially in the face of unkindness, criticism, egos, anger and hate. You know, basically every day here on planet earth with humans.
Forgiving people is tough, really tough. Especially those who hurt you or someone you love. See unkindness above. It’s obvious how hard it is, there is not a lot of forgiveness going around planet earth. Holding grudges and anger is easy, beyond easy. Zero effort. Forgiving takes herculean effort. The kind of strength not showcased in gyms or football fields or social media.
Being grateful is strangely tough. For some reason its tough to wake up everyday and take that first breath and be genuinely grateful for just being here. Without thinking about how tired we are, or how much we don’t want to go to work today, or how can we sit in traffic again or the endless list of things that actually wouldn’t mean anything if you found out you had only one more day to live. Waking up, and being grateful, we all have this day to live. That is the gift we barely open but receive every single morning.
Its pretty obvious how tough it is. How often do you see it? True vulnerability. Someone unmasking themselves and showing their true self. Being exposed is brutal. Being emotionally naked is not celebrated very often, it is actually seen more as weakness.
It is true courage.
Being humble is tough. The ego fights humility. Humility quietly sits at the back of the bus while the ego drives around sometimes recklessly and selfishly, breaking speed limits and running red lights. Humility demands real reflection and its above friend vulnerability.
And last but not least is the real deep, dark, pain cave.
I’m not talking about holding others accountable. I’m talking about only holding myself accountable. Man in the mirror. When I do that very simple but tough thing I feel real pain.
Accountability tells me this.
I’m not kind enough.
I don’t forgive enough.
I need to be more grateful every day.
I am not vulnerable enough.
I’m not humble enough.
I’m not a very tough guy by the standard and benchmarks I would like to exist at, but I am working on my evolution.
I don’t have 6 million years to do it either.
23.69, if I’m lucky.
“You have to overcome the fear and anger inside you, let a bright light shine in and melt the coldness in your heart. That’s what being tough is all about.” ― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
A version of this post was previously published on over50badasses.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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