What Doesn’t Kill You Most Definitely Will NOT Make You Stronger

It has become popular to say things like “Just be grateful for your trials.  They make you stronger.”  It has become the text of songs of all different genres.  Kelly Clarkson made it popular with her country hit “Stronger” in 2011.  No Resolve said it in recent attempt called “Kill Us.”  The Christian group Need to Breathe gave their rendition in “Hard Love.”   Others include “What Doesn’t Kill Us,” “What Doesn’t Kill Us…Makes Us Stronger,” and countless other mentions in many other songs (i.e, Rosanne).

It sounds like an inspiring message and seems true.  Often after a trial, we may even think this way.  Where did this idea even come from?

It seems that German Philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche gets original credit.  He said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  A nice quote, but is it really true? I am skeptical.  In this day of beautiful memes and quotes being shared every day over thousands of social media sites, I believe it is wise to question what we see.  Just because it looks good on your Facebook wall or sounds good through your earbuds, does not mean it is true.  So, can we look at this for a second?

I cannot speak for everyone I know, but among my friends and associates, everyone I know is experiencing some sort of hard trial in their life.  To be sure, if they are not, I know they will be at some time.  I am not aware of anyone who has not experienced or will not experience something that challenges them.

So, if these friends are still alive, then this quote must mean that they are all stronger.  So, if trials are the name of the game for everyone, then all of us are getting stronger, maybe all the time.  Does that sound right to you?  If you look at the social media posts of the people of Walmart, then you know something is off!

I think there is more at play here!  I am skeptical of anything that promises or pledges to be automatic.  This oft-repeated quote sounds too much like a vending machine for strength.  Just deposit in one hard experience and strength will drop into the bin for you to grab.  It sounds like something crucial might be missing.  At least, it has never worked that way for me.

I believe that hard experiences are exactly that—hard!  They are difficult.  They hit us, make us fall to our knees in prayer or in pain (or both!).  They can make us cry, weep, doubt, question, and frustrate us to no end.  They can make us bitter, angry, and resentful.  It seems there are a wide variety of effects that trials can have on us.  Yet, in the end, they are hard.  In my profession, I see people every day who have experienced the hard-knocks of life.  I see it.  I get it.

What seems to be missing from the equation here is the response of the individual facing the challenge.  I believe the key factor in whether we become stronger after a trial is not the trial itself, but what we choose to do.  Our decision in the face of the trial seems to be the factor.  In short, strength is not developed in times of trial and testing.  That is when strength is shown or demonstrated.

What we choose to do when facing the hard hits of life is what matters most.  If every time I experience a rough patch in life, I retreat to the basement, cover myself with a fuzzy blanket, and eat a half gallon of cookies and cream ice cream while bingeing on the newest Netflix series, I may not actually be getting stronger.  I may even be getting weaker.  If I took those same actions daily, it is almost indisputable I am not going to get stronger.

However, if I respond to that same trial by continuing to pray, exercise, weep, talk to a friend, and head back to work or to relationships, then, I am likely getting stronger.  I can choose actions that demonstrate and build strength, or I can choose to shut down and close down.  In one case, I am turning away from the hard time and avoiding or escaping.  In the other, I am leaning into the discomfort and hard and staying focused on what will keep me strong.

Life is often called “a test.”  I actually like the image of a test in the context of hard times not making us stronger.  I have often thought to myself that the test does not make me stronger.  The test actually shows me how strong I already am.  Like every school experience I have ever had:  first, you learn the lesson.  Second, you take the test.  Your performance on the test does not make you any stronger.  It just shows what is already there.

What if we looked at life and its hard times in this manner?  I think this would be more helpful.  When I think of having to get hit again by a hard time and hope some strength comes out of it, I am powerless and being acted upon by my circumstances.  When I think of it as a test where I can show by my actions and choices how strong I am, I feel empowered and braver!  I want to do well.

To put it another way, to me, the great test of life is this:  Will I keep doing the things that make me strong when the trial or challenge comes?  Will I keep praying when a hard time hits?  Will I keep eating right?  Will I keep exercising?  Will I keep reading and learning?  Will I keep apologizing and forgiving?  Will I keep going to church, the gym, the classroom, etc., and bravely showing up for life?

My choice when hard times come seems to be the key and deciding factor when it comes to my strength.  If I have chosen good, healthy, kindness, charity, joy, family, love, commitment, integrity and so on, then I am showing strength.  I am passing the test.

So, what does not kill me does not make me stronger.  What does make me stronger is the choice to show up and be brave in my life!  This is certainly true when life is hard.  Anyone can do something when it is easy to do!  Who are you when life is hard?  How do you respond to the challenges of this life?  If you are continuing the course, you are strong.  If you keep on course when the storm rages, you are getting stronger.

In short, making good, healthy and wise choices in good and bad times is what makes us strong.  Demonstrating you can do that when it is hard, shows the strength you possess.  That is what true strength is.  The decision to stick to it no matter how hard—that is where strength comes from!


Jim R. Jacobs
Jim R. Jacobs
Jim R Jacobs is a brave creator who strives to do mighty things! Jim is a Certified Daring Way Facilitator helping others to live more brave and authentic lives! He is the author of Driving Lessons For Life: Thoughts on Navigating Your Road to Personal Growth. Jim speaks professionally, and coaches others to success and living with integrity. He is a counselor, educator, innovator, father, and friend. Please check out Jim R. Jacobs and Driving Lessons For Life and find Jim on social media! Let's connect and dare mighty things!

SOLD OUT! JOIN OUR WAITING LIST! It's not a virtual event. It's not a conference. It's not a seminar, a meeting, or a symposium. It's not about attracting a big crowd. It's not about making a profit, but rather about making a real difference. LEARN MORE HERE