I’m 6’3″ 250 now — but I was a frail kid. Migraines, fainting spells, anxiety — and physically a weakling. I was tall but skinny. I couldn’t do push ups, pull-ups (which I still can’t do!) and could barely lift the bar on the bench press was I was 16. So physical strength was not something I knew until my 30s when I started lifting weights.

I had daily reminders of my lack of physical strength and stamina. Slow and awkward at recess games. Unable to lift irrigation pipes, saddles, close wire gates on the ranch. Bullied at school by kids whose own insecurities seemed to be attracted to whatever kick-my-ass pheromone my little body was releasing.

That frail Justin remains in me today at nearly 48 years old. My first reaction to any physical activity or challenge is “I can’t do this” or “I’m going to suck at this”. When I do physical things in a group, I assume that I will be amongst the laggards.

The past few years, I’ve returned to my true self, the original me. Yet to get there has required me to examine these other parts. (For more info on this approach, check out this article on Internal Family Systems). I’ve avoided this frail Justin part because … well … I don’t like him. I’ve buried him so deep in me because I’ve been afraid he would come back. But he never left and I never took the time to get to know him until recently.

In re-examining my journey, I saw that frail Justin was the bravest coward I’ve ever known. Despite feeling weak, fragile, puny and cowardly, he did a number of brave things:

  • In a 6th grade football game at recess, I saw that Todd Chavez (one of the better athletes — and also a frequent contributor to my misery) was about to blitz. I moved over to block him. And I sort of did. In the collision, I received a black eye and concussion — but he didn’t get to the QB.
  • I spent hundreds of hours outside at the ranch. There were all kinds of ways to get injured (which I did frequently) or even killed. I remember each day making a list of all the things that might hurt me — with the most imaginative stories. Like imagining what I would do if I stumbled across a hive of killer bees. Or if a serial killer showed up and held my family hostage. Or the Russians invaded (Thank you, Red Dawn!). But I did it all anyway. I rode horses and got bucked off, I rode motorcycles and wrecked them, I worked as an adult, I broke bones.
  • My sophomore year in high school. Walking down senior hall, I was suddenly surrounded by a group of bullies straight out of casting central of an 80s teen movie. Mullets, acne, chew tucked in to their lower lips, all sporting t-shirts from heavy metal bands. They started pushing me around; shoving me from one to another in their circle. Then something in me snapped. For the first time in my life, I fought back. I remember thinking, “they might kill me, but I’m taking a few of them with me.” And I fought back like the cornered animal I was. Throwing an elbow into the balls of one of them that jumped on my back. Kneeing another one in the face. Punching another one in the throat. They all got suspended (one expelled from the school) and I was — for a few days — a hero.
  • My junior year in high school, I went out for football. I was 5’11, 125 pounds and ran a 6.85 40 (in case you were wondering, turtles are faster). I got destroyed in tackling drills, I puked during the conditioning — and when the season started, I played a grand total of 5 plays for the entire season. One day in practice, the head coach (more than a little crazy) decided to pit the bigger offensive/defensive lineman against some of the smaller kids on the team. One of them was Steve Woodcock. An 18-year who looked 28 with a full beard and mean temper. The coach yelled at Woodcock “If you let Foster tackle you, then we all run sprints”. Here he came. He outweighed me by probably 100 pounds so I knew I couldn’t take him head on. So I decided to jump on his chest. I wove my fingers into his practice jersey and held on. He tried to push me off but couldn’t. As we neared the goal line, I began to slip. Which caused him to trip and fall on top of me about one yard from the end zone. With a spewing of profanity and threats, we all ran sprints. And it was probably the only time I’ve ever run with a smile on my face.

There were many other brave things. Stories maybe for another time. But in my 20s, 30s and into my early 40s, I kept that Justin tucked away in a dark corner; a distant memory. A reminder of what I did not want to become ever again. I covered him up with size, strength, bravado, brashness. But he was still there.

And in the last year, he came out again. But I noticed something this time. He was still brave. Brave enough to move to an entirely new state and start over after 20 years. Brave enough to walk away from the church I attended for pretty much my entire life. Brave enough to start a (another) new business. Brave enough to accept my life-long partner/wife’s awakening of who she truly is. Terrified by all of this, he did it all anyway.

Yes, this Justin is weak. Thank goodness. I’m more certain than ever that our weaknesses are designed to make us ask for help, keep us humble. I would much rather have a powerful soul and a frail body than a frail soul and a powerful body. I would not have known this without my weaknesses. I would not have asked God for help. I would not have gone back to therapy. I would have not spoken the truth if not for these weaknesses.

Of course, there are parts of me that I’m very proud of: being a dad, speaking skills, coaching/mentoring, strategic thinking, owning a business, writing intellect, etc. These things have fueled my confidence for years. And they still do. But added to this is a growing acceptance and confidence of this frail Justin. The bravest coward I’ve ever met.

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