okay. i’m strong willed.

A few days ago, I posted a link to a poll over at Lux Venit. Leslie is reading and reviewing a book entitled Redefining the Strong-Willed Woman by Cynthia Tobias. The first question in Leslie’s poll is “Would you call yourself a strong-willed woman?” I immediately commented and asked Leslie if Cynthia had defined a “strong willed woman.” I said I wasn’t sure how to answer without clarifying the term. “Strong-willed” may mean different things to different people. I’m not the only person who felt the term needed to be defined before the questions were answered. Check out Mrs. M at A Mother’s Musings. Leslie wanted me to answer the questions according to my own definition of a strong will.”

My own definition of a strong will. Problem. I didn’t have one. Never really thought about it before. I didn’t have time to go to the drawing board on this one. We had a birthday party, two basketball games and three solos at church this weekend. Not a lot of time for quiet introspection. I needed starting point. I had read another book by Cynthia Tobias a few years ago entitled You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded) and it actually helped me deal with my strong-willed pre-school daughter. I pulled it off the shelf, hoping for some insight into Cynthia’s definition of the term “strong-willed.”

In the first few pages of the book, she describes a conversation she had with a man named Bob. They were seated next to each other on an airplane and began discussing the difference in learning styles. He was frustrated with his children because the way they did things was very different from the way he did things. Given the title of my page above (“i sort my m&m’s by color”) I had to smile when I read what Cynthia asked him:

“Bob, how do you eat M&M’s?”

He replied without hesitation. “Oh, I always eat the primary colors first.” He looked puzzled. “Why? How do you eat them?”

“Well, I just sort of pour them in my hand and pop them in my mouth.”

“Oh no! Don’t you realize the Mars Candy Company has no specific formula for how many of each color go in each individual bag? You just can’t consume them randomly before you know what you’ve got!”

She laughed and said, “Bob, you are a sick man!”

A few pages later, Cynthia provides a test to check your child’s strong-willed “quotient.” I wondered if Cynthia offered a similar quiz in this new book, Redefining the Strong Willed Woman. I Googled (“cynthia tobias” quotient) and the third link led me right to it. I found the quiz in an article on www.familylifetoday.org. Go on over and take it! (But don’t forget to come back!)

I checked 5 statements in the quiz which describe me. So when determining how much “strong-will” I have, I scored a 5. Scoring between 4-7 points means “You use it when you need to, but not on a daily basis.” I think that’s about right.

At the risk of making myself look bad, I checked:

When given the ultimatum “Do it or else,” I will often just “else.”
(I don’t give ultimatums and my husband and I don’t allow our children to EVER give them – to us or anyone else. They are disrespectful. I wrote 3 paragraphs on this and then deleted each one. Just don’t get me started.)

I consider rules to be guidelines. (I’m abiding by the spirit of the law; why are you being so picky?) (I agree with the statement, but not with the parenthetical reasoning.) My reasons for seeing rules as guidelines are usually reversed. “You are abiding by the spirit of the law, I’m not going to be picky.” I see the bigger picture. I see the main objective. I see the motivation. I’m not concerned with dotting the “i” or crossing the “t” and I will bend the rules in a second if it helps someone without hurting someone else. I consider myself to be a reasonable person. A pragmatic person. There’s a reason for every rule created. I look at the reason more than the rule. Nobody freak out. I said RULE, not LAW. I don’t break the law.)

I can show great creativity and resourcefulness; I always seem to find a way to accomplish the goal. (I believe more things are possible than impossible. Something may not be possible if you follow one course of action to achieve a goal, but I believe it’s possible to modify the course of action and still achieve the intended goal. There are often multiple ways to do solve a problem or accomplish a goal, the successful way just hasn’t been thought of yet.)

I don’t do things just because “you’re supposed to”; it needs to matter to me personally. (Who decides what I’m “supposed to” do? I need to spend my time on things which support my own priorities, which I strive to keep in line with God’s will. I can’t abdicate my activity schedule or my priorities to anyone.)

I’m not afraid to try the unknown, to conquer the unfamiliar (but I’ll choose my own risks.) (I am risk averse, but I’m not afraid of learning something new. I love learning something new.)

So what is my definition of a strong-willed woman? Here we go:

I like all the adjectives Mrs. M used in her post: opinionated, articulate, brave, direct, confident and in control of their emotions. I would add educated (formal or informal), competitive (most often with myself), intentional (not reactionary) and open-minded (convince me, I may be wrong). I would also add some examples from my own life and perspective:

I removed the words, “and obey” from my wedding vows, but I would never make a big commitment (financial or otherwise) without a heart to heart with my husband.

I’m not afraid of being wrong or saying I’m wrong, but I do want to discuss it first. Make no mistake, I REALLY like it when I’m right. I just don’t freak out when I’m wrong.

Do not say the words, “Good enough.” to me if you want my respect. A job worth doing is worth doing well. (Both my kids just rolled their eyes. In their sleep.)

I don’t reject criticism in it’s entirety. I consider, after extracting emotional baggage, is there any truth to the criticism I receive? Probably. I try to find the truth and face it. No fun, but necessary.

So according to that fragmented definition, here are my answers to Leslie’s poll:

1. Would you call yourself a strong-willed woman?


2. Do you view the possession of a strong-will as a positive or negative characteristic?

Possession? Positive. Remember the phrase, “That which does not kill you makes you stronger?” I believe my strong will is answer to prayer during my times of struggle. So, I believe possession of a strong-will is a positive characteristic. It is a gift from God. Our gifts are to be used for His glory. So, possession? Positive.

However, the exercise of a strong-will is a different thing altogether. I believe it is a positive characteristic when exercised in some situations. Negative when employed in others. The trick is knowing when to stand strong and when to employ passivity. In my opinion, both standing strong and being passive are necessary in life. Seeking God’s direction in making that determination is my responsibility.

3. Do you feel like your strong-will hinders or enhances your walk with Jesus?

Enhances. Being strong-willed doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t submit that will to Him. He gave me my gifts. I need him to lead me when it comes to using them. He needs to be my guide when I choose between exercising strong-will and being passive. I just need to work on seeking His will.

4. Do you believe a woman has to give up her strong-will in order to follow Christ?

No. I believe my strong-will is a gift. Submitting it to Him is one way I obey him.

5. Strong-willed women have a more difficult time fitting in with the rest of the women at church. Agree or disagree.

The thing is, referring to a woman as “strong-willed” seems to infer that she is different or unusual somehow. Speaking from an American perspective, I don’t think a strong-willed women is all that unique in 2008. The last question of the poll seems to be based on the premise that the “rest” of the women in the church are not strong-willed. I wonder if strong will in women can be grouped into three categories:

1. How to I phrase this first one? Women without strong-will? Weak willed women? Passive women? Submissive women? Pick your term.

2. Strong-willed women. (I still have my button which reads, “I failed submission school.”)

3. Stubborn, controlling, unreasonable, sometimes narcissistic women. (is that too harsh?)

I do feel awkward with some women. With others, I’ve found true sisters. Guess who the sisters are? Women in the second category. It’s natural for people to gravitate toward those who are like them. I fit in more easily with women who are like me.

I believe that my way can be different without being wrong. More importantly, I believe that your way can be different without being wrong. If you want to eat your m&m’s by the handful, without even looking at the colors, that would be different than me. But it wouldn’t be wrong. It would be sick, but not wrong.