Would you rather be courageous or comfortable? In the arena or watching from the grandstand?As I explain on the ‘Why are we here?’ page, this blog’s raison d’être is to chronicle the things I am learning in my quest to become as interesting as can be, to become more worthy of joining in on the conversation, ‘not just listening up the back’. So I suppose my answer is clear- you’ll find me in the arena. But why would I, why would we, ‘put ourselves out there’? Why would we abandon our comfortable seats for the burning lights of the arena?
According to Brené Brown, stepping up and in to the arena is the key to living a wholehearted life. A wholehearted life is one in which we dare greatly. A life in which we have the courage to show up and be seen, even if it means risking failure, hurt, shame and even heartbreak. Why? Because hanging back, and closing off, shackles our hopes, our potential, our creativity and our ability to lead. Brené says that the only way to unlock these gifts is to embrace our vulnerability. If we want to be brave, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
We hear a lot about being brave. We’re raised on a Disney diet that puts bravery at its core. We’re told we can do anything we want to do if we are brave enough to try. But rarely do we prepare ourselves for the consequences of our bravery.
Yes, fortune favours the brave, but so does failure. And we need to fortify ourselves for that.
Brené Brown has made an enormous contribution to the social dialogue on this topic. Her TED talk on ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ is the fourth most popular talk of all time and her new book, ‘Rising Strong’ builds upon this theme. Her book (which I have just started) is an homage to the brave and a guide for the fallen.
Brené’s main message is that we needn’t be afraid of the arena, because we can prepare ourselves to face discomfort head on. She says that vulnerability is not weakness; its our greatest measure of courage. And by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we permit ourselves to take risks, to pursue greatness, to reach higher plains of fulfilment in ourselves and connectedness with each other.
It’s so true. The most engaging people, the most comforting friends, the best teachers are people who open the door to their hearts and minds. Who let you in, even just a little bit. Who aren’t afraid to bare the best and the worst of themselves, and give others the permission to do so too. They make themselves vulnerable.
It reminds me, I read an article recently championing the benefits of vulnerability and openness in everyday interactions. The article, titled ‘Why its OK to hate small talk’, riffs on an earlier piece by Forbes which proclaims the ’11 Secrets of Irresistible People’. The former reports that the charming humans we long to be around, the ones who ‘light up the room with their wisdom and grace’, eschew small talk. They don’t swim in the shallow end of the conversation pool because they have a low tolerance for inauthenticity. And people find this irresistible. Because, deep down, emotional connection is what we are all seeking. As Maya Angelou said, ‘People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’
So in order to to dare greatly, live a wholehearted life, truly connect and cultivate our most irresistible selves, we must venture into the arena. We mustn’t be distracted by those hurling criticism from the comfort of the cheap seats. Its easy there, but its also dark and nothing ever changes.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘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 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‘.
Brené’s book is a safety net for those who are brave enough to fall.
Thought Leader(s): Brené Brown, Theodore Roosevelt
Book(s): Brown, B (2015) ‘Rising Strong’, Penguin Random House UK.