“Toughness” doesn’t mean much by itself. 

Some people are really enamored of the concept of being “tough.” They associate it with being durable, hard to take down. They consider it a virtue. 

Toughness may or may not be a virtue, I suppose. I’m not exactly sure what goes into making a “tough” person “tough”— how much of it has to do with genes, how much of it has to do with conditioning and environment, how much of it is a choice. I don’t know. 

I do know that “toughness,” as defined by most people, seems to be overrated as a prognosticator of success. 

You’re not going to get by on toughness. 

Toughness, on its own, is kind of useless without good planning; without organization; without tools and skills; without appropriate values and goals. 

Toughness, on its own, doesn’t get you very far— without the work. 

Yes, yes, I know. Work is a hassle. It’s more effort. It’s something else on your radar screen. I, for one, wish it wasn’t necessary to do all that planning and develop all that knowledge and all those skills in order to create a life worth living. 

But I’d rather accept the fact that we need to do the work, rather than get lost in some fantasy that a magical quality called “toughness” will get us by. 

Understand, it’s not your fault that you’ve been sold a bill of goods about “toughness.” 

Our culture is kind of enamored of “tough guys.” 

We like larger than life characters who are “badass.” 

We like leaders who “tell it like it is,” regardless of the consequences. 

We enjoy the fantasy of invulnerability that the concept of “toughness” embodies. 

More than anything, we like to think of ourselves as “tough.” After all, if we’re fundamentally “tough,” it doesn’t matter what else happens to us— we’ll be okay in the end, right? Because we’re so “tough?” 

It’s an alluring fantasy. But also a dangerous one. 

If we buy into the myth of “toughness” at the expense of developing our skills and tools and clarifying our values and goals, we really can lose days, weeks, months, and years spinning our wheels. Waiting for our “toughness” to bail us out. 

You may be “tough.” I’m not saying you’re not. 

I’m saying that “toughness” is only a starting point. 

If I need to bet on who will succeed, between the person who is “tough” and the person who understands how important it is to develop the knowledge and skills that will complement their toughness, I’ll bet on knowledge and skills every single time. 

Having to turn to skills and tools, instead of relying on fundamental toughness, isn’t weak. 

In fact, I guarantee that most of the people you think of as “tough,” either in your life or in popular culture, don’t really share many fundamental qualities…EXCEPT a willingness to access their skills and tools when they need to. 

Genuinely “tough” people aren’t conflicted about utilizing skills and tools. 

They accept using skills and tools as something that needs to happen, regardless of how they feel about it. 

Do you really want to develop “toughness” that actually means something? Toughness you can actually use? Toughness that will come in handy? 

Then get comfortable identifying and developing knowledge, skills, plans, and tools. 

Get used to getting over your own antipathy toward using skills and tools. 

Get used to getting out of your own way. 

You have the potential to be as “tough” as anyone you admire. As “tough” as anyone you’ve ever known— as long as you can give up your fantasy of “toughness” being a character trait that will solve all your problems without the use of skills and tools. 

Real toughness is adaptability. 

And adaptability is learned and practiced and conditioned. 


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