Fellow introvert and an inspiring breath of fresh perspective, Brené Brown, has spent 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. After watching her Netflix special, I couldn’t order her latest book, one of five New York Times bestsellers, fast enough. She inspired me to think, and she pushed me to learn. Her words urge you not to look at how to change others, but rather focus on improving yourself, which comes from being vulnerable. She begins with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that, after hearing, altered the course of her entire life and way of thinking:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
These words are powerful, pushing you to think one way or another after reading. We know how common it is to shout critiques or ridicule and even harass someone other than ourselves, especially with advancement and accessibility into the discreet expression outlets available online today. But as Brené points out, there is an abundance of cheap seats available outside of the arena, full of people that will never once step foot inside, but will still make it a full time job to hurl judgment and hate towards anyone in the arena, because it’s easier to cause pain than to feel pain. But by listening, really listening to what Brené says, stepping inside the arena may be the harder choice, but the choice to choose courage over comfort is the opportunity to be brave. We don’t need to mirror what we think or know to be true. We need to fight to find our own truth. “The opposite of belonging is fitting in. Fitting in is accessing and acclimating. Belonging is belonging to yourself first. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are.”
We must make use of the time we have. It doesn’t matter how many people are beside us in the arena, it only matters that we stay true to ourselves with the courage to stand on our own two feet. It is only here that we can evolve into our most authentic selves. Brené reminds us that if you’re brave with your life, you’re going to get your ass kicked. You’re going to fall, you’re going to fail, and you’re going to know heartbreak. You’re going to be well acquainted with failure if you’re courageous with your life, but you don’t need to grab onto all of that bad stuff. Choose to let all of the inevitable negativity thrown your way, fall right to the ground. You don’t have to stomp on it. Let that opposing energy fall away from you as you walk over and past it.
Brené talks about the many companies that have hired her to come and speak to employees about, quote on quote, the hard things. She points out that during a time where we’re gravitating towards change, those people that are targeted by racism, homophobia, heterosexism, and gender bias are not responsible for initiating the conversations that need to happen nor are they accountable for building the tables that house these discussions. It’s the people that aren’t being targeted that have a responsibility to be at the forefront leading these conversations, unearthing the unsaid. Perhaps by initiating these conversations, they may even get their asses handed to them, but with that vulnerability and failure comes the opportunity to learn and grow, the amount necessary to keep us moving forward. Without vulnerability, there is no creativity. Without a tolerance for failure, there is no innovation.
No one can go at it alone, we need each other. Brené ties this into the recent adoption of the ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude that’s currently trending. She reminds us that we’re neurobiologically hardwired for connection with other people. “In the absence of connection, love, and belonging, there is always suffering.” You can still give a shit about what people think, just don’t give a shit what some people think. The only people you should be taking feedback from are people who love you not despite your imperfection and vulnerability but because of your imperfection and vulnerability. Their feedback does matter.
We shame women about appearance and body image. We shame men into not showing emotion or God forbid, weakness. But the myth is a lie, vulnerability is not a weakness. To have more love, joy, and intimacy in your life, we have to let ourselves be seen. Although so many are afraid to step on that road of transparency, vulnerability is the path back to each other and it’s not as simple as winning or losing. Sometimes just being brave when you don’t want to be is vulnerability.
It isn’t enough to be told you’re worth it if you still don’t do the work yourself. In loving yourself, you’re able to love others freely, creating the type of life that keeps you moving forward and not stuck in grief of the past. Staying inside of the arena, leaving yourself open allows what is essential to come in. Be brave when you’re scared and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Join Brené Brown in the arena and evolve into your most fearless self.
“You’re worth being brave.”