“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.”
The above excerpt is perhaps the most notable passage from Theodore Roosevelt’s 35-page speech titled Citizen in a Republic. This particular passage is commonly referred to as “The Man in the Arena.” While Roosevelt’s words may have been uttered in a political context, the core of his message speaks volumes about the opportunity each of us has to dare greatly and achieve abundantly. For the sake of this blog, I’d like to pose the following question…”What is the most important step that we can take in order to be in the arena that Roosevelt was referring to?”
My answer is…WE MUST HAVE THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE. Let me explain.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at the word vulnerability. Merriam-Webster defines it as…capable of being physically or emotionally wounded. If we read this definition in a literal sense, our first response might be something like this…“Why would I want to expose myself to physical or emotional wounds? That’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid. Of course I can’t be vulnerable.” If we follow this progression of thought, it’s only natural that we begin to build an arsenal of personal armor with the sole intent of avoiding the aforementioned physical and emotional wounds. Furthermore, we might operate under the assumption that when we have “enough” armor, we will then enter the arena. Below are some examples of the armor I’m referring to.
- Avoiding risks for fear of failure.
- Withholding the authentic expression of an emotion (i.e. love) for fear of being rejected.
- Failing to follow your true passion for fear of ridicule or criticism.
- Sharing only on a surface level for fear of being “seen”.
Do you notice a common theme here? All of this armor is designed to mitigate fear. So, what exactly is it that we fear? If we want to take a risk, why don’t we? If we feel love for another person, why can’t we share it? If we have a passion for something, why don’t we try to fulfill it? If we want to share authentically with others, why don’t we? The answer to each of these questions is simple. We often spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for the arena; waiting for that moment when we have enough armor to be invincible. Sadly, that “moment” never comes and through this process, we repress our authentic selves, the core of our being.
So, how can we begin this process of embracing the power of vulnerability? Well, we can start by transforming our perception of vulnerability from one of weakness to one of strength. Brene Brown, in her fascinating TED Talk about the power of vulnerability (see video), turns the dictionary definition upside-down and says that vulnerability is the birthplace of emotions such as joy, love, creativity, and innovation. 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.” The arena is not a place where you play small and worry about the potential of emotional wounds. For it is in these wounds that new possibilities arise. When we are in the arena, we are making a commitment to sharing our authentic selves, despite the potential of criticism from the audience.
As some of you may know, I recently launched a crowd funding campaign in an effort to raise funds that will allow me to reach a larger audience of youth (see campaign page). To say that I’ve had to be vulnerable in this process is an understatement. Before I launched this campaign, my monkey mind was working overtime, constantly looking for ways to sabotage my own success. Each of these thoughts (i.e. Who are you to think you can raise $50,000?) served as a piece of armor that I was attempting to pull out of storage, ultimately trying to avoid the emotional wounds that I might incur.
I’m here to say that I’m done playing small and my armor is on its way to the junkyard. Although being in the arena is filled with challenge, I can proudly say that I’m daring greatly.
I invite you consider your current level of vulnerability with regard to your personal and professional development. Chances are there is some inauthentic thought (i.e. I’m not ________________ enough) that is holding you back. My suggestion is to thank your mind for doing its job and jump courageously into the arena. Let’s enjoy this journey together.
With love and gratitude,