Brene’ Brown has this concept of “the arena.” She famously quotes Theodore Roosevelt in her research when he said this:
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.” – Theodore Roosevelt
I get the idea of the arena. It’s the place we put ourselves when our need to feel seen outweighs our need to self-protect. Sometimes we hunger for that connection so deeply that we choose to put aside our pride and ego and choose to lean into love instead.
I live in the arena. A friend helped me understand today that it’s because I love the battle. I love summoning the courage to rise up and become bigger than the problem. My soul is fed on the satisfaction of knowing I overpowered the fear. I can look pain and suffering in the eye and slay it with my words. Sharing my struggle, my shame, my hurt, makes me feel powerful. I love that.
It has taken me a long time to understand this about myself. I’m also learning that showing my errors and shortcomings helps build strength and faith in the hearts of others. I believe that if you see me do it, you will know you can, too.
I want to gift you the feeling of power that comes with daring greatly and knowing your own personal victory.
With that said, I want to share a bit about myself. I want to share some of of the dust and blood and sweat I have worn. Here are seven things you might want to know about my battles:
- If I gave myself a grade for mothering, I’d say I’m average, at best. I love my children fiercely. I will love them for all of my days in ways they will only understand should they choose to have children themselves. That said, I am luke-warm when it comes down to the every day nuts and bolts of the job. I cite my banal human qualities as the reasons I will never be an exceptional parent. I get tired. I am impatient. I can only get truly excited about one in every twenty pieces of “art” my children create. I like personal space. I like quiet. I love order and clarity. For these reasons, parenting is hard. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I’m certain I’m saying the exact wrong thing but I have NO CLUE what the right thing to say is. I have often lost my temper with my kids and I’ve said and done things that made me instantly wince in dread. I have made my shortcomings their problem and I have had that pit in my stomach that only comes with true regret. Sometimes my kids drive me crazy because they test my personal limits. They constantly remind me of how inadequate I am in this area or that, and that brings on a shame tsunami that I could easily drown in. But, instead of doing better, I usually end up doubling down and doing worse. I know this and I hate it. Still, I don’t have all the skills I need yet to do better. Overall, I try to be non-judgmental and free flowing while doing my best to not raise sociopaths. I find those goals at odds with each other most of the time. I know I am failing miserably a lot, but because I love them I am committed to trying again and again and again. To be fair, I do a lot of things right, too. In the end, I am willing to admit that I struggle so hard here. Really, if it weren’t for my amazing husband I would have to double down on those therapy sessions I’m saving for when these three small kids become truly verbal and independently cognitive beings.
- I am a good person, but not everyone agrees on that. I do a lot of good things because I believe it is the right thing to do and I’m not afraid of what I might lose if I bet wrong. Sometimes I do the right thing because I think of what the value of my integrity is in that moment, and I choose not to compromise it for some minor, short-lived gain. I think about what I’m putting out into the world. I hope to receive similar energy back, so I choose good. And yet, my sister hasn’t really spoken to me in over five years. Being good and doing good take work and sacrifice. Most of the time, I am up for the task. My sister has certainly seen me fall short of my commitment to those principles. Even though that hurts, I still choose to love and forgive her as often as I can. Sometimes I can’t summon empathy and I get angry and want to hurt her as much as she has hurt me. I’d like to think I’m better than that, but I struggle with the intense pain and grief that comes alongside being rejected by someone I love. I have no idea how I would ever go about repairing our relationship if given a chance. Still, I deeply desire a happier outcome for both of us.
- I see the best in people. That puts me squarely in the arena because all too often people do not live up to their best selves (including and especially me).
- Doing marriage well is hard for me. Not that the alternative would be easier. It certainly wouldn’t be better. It’s not always hard, but I find marriage difficult because I am afraid to show up with vulnerability and not get my needs met. This happens a lot in marriages. It takes a lot of skill and a ton of practice to understand who your partner is and what they need in the moment. Again, those human proclivities get in the way. Tom and I have worked really hard to be experts on one another, but sometimes we miss the mark. That means I have to keep showing up and exposing my most protected parts of my heart in exchange for a chance at deeper, stronger connection. The alternative is to shut down and pull away. I’ve done that before and I hurt both of us a lot when I turned outward rather than inward. It’s a struggle, but it’s a battle I’m willing to engage in because he is so very worth it.
- I am not who I am meant to be. Yet. A good friend once told me that one version of hell is meeting the person you could have been. That nearly knocked the wind out of me because it resonates so deeply in my soul. I dream about accomplishing so much more than I have. I panic when I think about not reaching my goals before the end of my life. I put a ton of pressure on myself. My problem is my that I don’t know how to accomplish my dreams. There is no road map here. Consequently, everything feels out of reach and I get impatient and frustrated and scared. Fortunately, I am young enough to still believe that my life goals are still on their way. I pray I am right.
- I have been defeated. I am lucky to be alive. I struggle with depression and anxiety and there have been times my sadness and despair have been so deep I have made choices that put my life at risk. While I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to die, I can say that life has gotten so dark that I simply haven’t had what it takes to keep going. I’ve taken too many pills in the past. I once had great difficulty keeping my car in its lane and not veering into oncoming traffic. I’ve cut a little too deep. It’s certainly nothing I am proud of, but I am proud to have survived. I am so grateful to be alive and well and to have lived to see lighter days. I have better tools now and better connections with the people who love me. I’d like to think if I were ever in that dark place again, I’d know how to find help. But the reality is a downward spiral can come up on me like a tornado and it can suck me down to the most painful parts of my psyche. I have to fight to stay alive in those moments, and so far I’ve had just enough fight (and luck and support) to keep me here.
- I struggle with worthiness. Ever since I was a small kid, I felt different; I felt like I was outside and unusual. I have seldom fit in I have been the target of cruelty from both children and adults because of it. Even though I feel compelled to continue telling it, it is hard for me to understand why people are interested in my story. For a long time, I didn’t believe I deserved my husband. Slowly, I am starting to believe that the person I am, just as I am, is enough. Simply living and existing is enough to deserve love, support, praise, and happiness. That has been a hard won victory for me. I think I get a little bit better at it every day.
This is me in the arena. I am an amalgam of love, fear, desire, connection, rejection, fight and hope. Everything in me compels me to bare my soul so that someone else may find a ray of acceptance and love for their own heart here. This impossibly vulnerable piece was written for the broken and healing heart in all of us. Yours included.
Give ‘Em Hell