I have these callouses on my hands.
I’ve built them up over time from doing pull ups and other bar exercises.
I pick at them, sometimes because they peel and I’m eager to rid my body of the rough spots the dead skin has created. Other times I can feel how disproportionately thick they are compared with the rest of my hand and compulsively pick to minimize their size.
Even as much as I pick at them and how ugly they are, I’m grateful my callouses are there.
Trying to do multiple pull ups with baby soft skin gets painful – there’s not enough skin between the bar and my nerve endings to prevent the pain of the friction of the bar against my bare hand. Without my callouses, I can only hold onto the bar for one, two, maybe three pull ups before I have to let go.
Which makes me think about other activities I do that are helped by some thick skin; including any work I’ve ever done, showing off a creative endeavor, trying something new with an audience, and any leadership role.
All of these things involve a bit of risk.
There’s the risk that whatever work I’ve done will be worthless (or at least not worth the time I put in), that it won’t be effective.
Usually whatever photos or a short film I’ve created that I’m particularly proud of are at least in some part an extension of who I am and so there’s always a risk when I show them off people won’t like them which can be translated that they don’t like me.
And there’s always a risk of that dreaded f-word… failure.
Nobody really likes failing.
Sure there are those who have mastered using failure as a learning experience and find it useful – but I’m sure they still don’t like it.
If our “skin” is thin, then our negative experiences rub our emotional nerve endings raw pretty quick. A big failure or being criticized (particularly without it being constructive) is like doing 50 pull ups with fresh, baby-soft hands.
But much like how my hands have naturally built thicker skin the more I’ve done pull ups, the more we fail and get back out there, the thicker our emotional skin will become.
The more resilient we will be.
Failure and criticism will still sting, but they won’t stop us the way they would have at the start.
But like any other good thing, sometimes our skin can be too thick.
Callouses that aren’t smoothed down with a pumice stone on a regular basis, that keep getting thicker and thicker, will eventually rip on the pull up bar. Where you once had thick, tough skin protecting your hands from the grating sensation of the friction of the bar, you now have an open, angry red, blister that might even be oozing blood.
It’s not only one of the least pleasant sensations in the world ranking right up there with pouring alcohol into a paper cut, but the hot shower after your workout is going to hut. A lot.
There’s a happy medium to how thick to let your callouses get.
Just as there’s a happy medium as to how thick you want your skin to get.
You don’t want to have such thick skin that you never feel any emotional pain, that you go through life numb to what’s going on in and around you.
If you do, if you never feel the pain of failure or criticism, then eventually you’ll find there will be something that causes your thick skin to pull off and you’ll be a raw, angry mess.
It will also take a long time for you to heal – you can’t just go back to doing what you do without noticing the constant pain of being.
So toughen up – but don’t get too tough.
Too tough could be disastrous.