Are You Tough?

Throughout my life, my parents blessed me with many life lessons. They taught me the skills I would need to succeed and be a good person. One lesson that really stands out is toughness.

For my whole childhood, I was the smallest in the class and the shortest among my peers.

From birth we knew I would not be the big guy in any group. So when I talk about “toughness” it isn’t of a physical kind. Being tough physically was never something I had.

As a double heart and lung transplant recipient, I have dealt with with illness in various degrees of severity for most of my life. Being physically strong was never a priority, or even a possibility.

The toughness of which I speak today is of the mental kind. I was taught early on that being mentally tough, whether in sports, work, or life, could compensate for any and all shortcomings (pardon the pun) I might have physically. I learned early that getting knocked down was okay, as long as I got back up.

Your success, I believe, is largely dependant not so much on your ability, talent, education or experience, but rather on your ability to keep going after you fail, get knocked down, or hit obstacles. To be able to stay focused on your goal and remember your purpose amidst the distractions, that’s what toughness is all about.

So are you tough?

If you ask someone that question, most of the time I suspect, they’ll say no. And most of the time they would be wrong.

We often think of ourselves as weaker than we really are. I don’t know if it’s humility, lack of confidence or poor memory, but most of tend to forget all the times we’ve been tough in the past when we’re called upon to be tough in the present.

We think we can’t handle it, that we can’t possibly cope with whatever we’re going through.

We forget what we’ve already had to overcome, what we’ve already accomplished that should reassure us that we are more than capable of handling the next thing to come our way.

Today is the day to begin building greater mental toughness.

Here are five ways to stay tough:

  1. Get Inspired. Read great biographies. Learn more about some of the people who inspire and encourage you. Learning from them and seeing how they have overcome things in their lives will give you courage to move forward. When you read about Nelson Mandela or watch the video of Terry Fox running down the highway, you can’t help but become more driven to do what you do with excellence.
  2. No Pain No Gain. Those who are able to be tough when they need to be start off with a different attitude than others. They know from the beginning that it isn’t going to be easy (worthwhile things rarely are), and so they go in with an expectation that a certain amount of pain is just part of the process. Those who quit before they accomplish their goals often do so because they go into a project with the mistaken belief that it will be easy, and then when they hit an unexpected roadblock they are easily discouraged. Go in with your eyes open and you stand a greater chance of success.
  3. Stay Focused. This is a critical step and the place where more and more people are falling down. Today there are so many things vying for our time and attention that it can be VERY easy to get distracted. Taking your eyes off of the prize for even a second can spell disaster. Most people don’t fail to achieve goals because they are lazy or unskilled; they fail because somewhere between where they are and where they want to be, they stray off course.
  4. Recall Past Successes. Few of us give ourselves credit for what we are truly capable of. Oh, we’re great at remembering every failure, misstep and mistake we’ve ever made, but how easily do we recall our triumphs? Think about this: How often to do you take time to remember your successes? If we all took time to remember some of the great things we’ve already accomplished in life, we’d walk with our heads held higher.
  5. Live from Your Why. The most critical step of all: find and live from your why. Nietzsche once wrote, “He can endure any how who has a big enough why.” It is the secret to staying tough no matter what the circumstances. When you know why you are doing something, and that why is important enough to you, nothing else matters. How can parents stay up all night with a screaming baby? How do marathon runners gut out 26 miles? They have a WHY that is bigger than any how.


Today, I encourage you to remember your past triumphs, especially if you are facing a trial right now. Look at what you’ve done in your life and let it reassure you in tough times that you are tougher.

Did this list help you call to mind the many times you’ve overcome obstacles, beaten the odds and succeeded where others have failed? Please leave a comment sharing your insights below.

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  • BBever1008

    Hi Mark,

    It is uplifting to read about your tough journey.  Bravo to you.

    Bob Beverley