I recently took part in Dr Brené Brown’s “The Daring Way” ™ training. Based on her books, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, my plan was to come away with new insights on her ground-breaking work on vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness. I hoped to return ready to share ways to live a more authentic and wholehearted life— how to ‘Show Up, Be Seen and Live Brave’. What I didn’t expect was to come home with such whopping insights into my own life and what it really means to me, to “live fully”.
A quick recap: Brené’s research, explored in Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” quote. It has always been one of her favourite quotes, and became even more treasured when she finally realised why: the person, out there in the arena, with his face marred with blood and dust and sweat? They represent everything Brené’s research on vulnerability is about.
The person Roosevelt describes is the quintessence of vulnerability. They’re as exposed and out there as you get. They’re brave, and they’re daring to fail.
Why are they putting themselves through all of that? Because to do otherwise would mean not unlocking their potential to live a whole-hearted life. As the saying goes, “A ship in harbour is safe, but that’s not why ships were built”.
By stepping into the arena and having the courage to breathe through uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability, we come out the other side braver and more courageous. We open ourselves to richer experiences, connections and achievements. And that, Brené explains, is the way to live our most authentic life— that’s what it truly means to “live fully”.
We are presented with multiple opportunities to step into the arena in our lives – sometimes even multiple times in a day. In our relationships and social circles. As parents. In the workplace. And when faced with our dreams and our fears.
But, rather than stepping into the arena, baring our souls and really going for it, we tend to live in “the gray twilight that knows neither victory or defeat”. You know the place. It’s comfortable. Well, it’s also really uncomfortable too. It’s where, just as you’re plucking up the courage to step into the arena, you hear that voice. You’re not good enough, it says. Who do you think you are?
Brené calls that voice and those subsequent emotions shame. Shame, she explains, is not guilt. Shame is a focus on self; guilt is a focus on behaviour. Shame is “I am bad”; guilt is “I did something bad”.
Perfectionism, the strive for “busyness” we all do today, is strongly rooted in feelings of shame and inadequacy. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting peoples’ expectations, and being criticised keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds. That criticism can come from others, or from the media, but it can just as easily come from our own negative self-talk.
So instead, we retract. We wait until we are perfect and bulletproof before we step into the arena and have to be vulnerable. And in doing so, Brené explains,
“[W]e ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make… Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”
During the Daring Way™ training we were asked to share our own experiences on vulnerability and shame. And I started to think about the TEDx talk I gave last year on “Better than OK: From coping to flourishing”. And here’s the truth: I didn’t do any public speaking for almost five months after that talk! Post-talk I experienced a “vulnerability hangover”, felt I was a terrible speaker, and rejected numerous opportunities to speak.
To help us to step into our own arenas, and combat our feelings of shame and inadequacy, Brené talks at length about developing your team of supporters. People who’ve earned your trust and whose opinion counts.
These should be separated from the critics in your life – not the people or messages pulling you into line, or lifting you to a better standard with constructive critical analysis. These are the self-esteem annihilators. These are the “critics” who, as Roosevelt so aptly reminds us, simply don’t count.
Having a support crew isn’t about padding yourself with people who stroke your ego – these are the people with whom you will find empathy and compassion. And they are key to having the courage to step in the arena. Cultivate enough self-compassion and you too can be that person for yourself. Or do what Brené does:
“I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinions of me matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles. You have to know that I’m trying to be Wholehearted, but I still cuss too much, flip people off under the steering wheel, and have both Lawrence Welk and Metallica on my iPod.”
Over the Daring Way™ training weekend, I rallied my support crew, faced my fears, and accepted more speaking engagements. Turns out, my fears were completely unsubstantiated in the first place.
So I’ll leave you with this thought:
Shame is like a fungi that grows with silence, secrecy and judgement.
But shame can’t survive if you douse it with empathy.
What weird sort of mushrooms do you have growing in the dark, festering away and stopping you from reaching your potential? From living “fully”? Rally your empathetic support team, and get vulnerable.….And then get your butt in the arena!