Sitting on the bleachers vs. being in the arena

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I was perusing the “Brene Brown” topic on Tumblr tonight and came across an interview she did in the fall of 2012 as part of the Good Life Project entitled “Vulnerability Is Not Weak.” It was about 50 minutes long, so I sat back and watched it on my laptop, sometimes paying close attention and sometimes letting my mind wander (and sometimes doing Sudoku). There was something she said, however, that made me grab a pencil and scrap of paper (an envelope, actually) so I could write it down. What she said was this: “It’s so easy to make a life and a career out of sitting in the bleachers and making fun of people and putting them down.”

Brene Brown often cites these words (pictured above) from Theodore Roosevelt in her talks: “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 and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

It’s really hard to let yourself be seen 100% by those around you. To do that, you have to present both your happy face and the one that tells the world that you are a little sad or a little lost or a little angry. Feeling a little guilt. Feeling a little shame. Feeling a lot of shame. You have to be vulnerable enough not to hide yourself in snark (I am SO GOOD at bringing the snark.) or deflection with humor or calling attention to the deficiencies in others so as to take attention away from those in you. It’s really easy to stay in the bleachers, making fun of people (always tongue in cheek, although every tongue in cheek comment does have some truth at its base), instead of going into the arena and daring greatly.

I spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff. I want to “get it.” But no matter how much I want to do this, I still stumble quite a bit when I try to be vulnerable, when I try to let people see me and be seen by me. I have some people with whom I can do this, but even when I am in the moment with them, there comes a point where it gets too hard, and that’s when I go into snark mode or turn what was my story into an anecdote. My therapist usually has to continuously redirect me back to the feelings when our conversations get too hard for me. When she asks what I am feeling, and my reply is, “I don’t know,” she has to lead me through it and drag it out of me, and it’s so hard just to let myself be seen.

However, a lifetime in the bleachers is not what I want to have. And it is only by learning to dare greatly that I can expect anything more than that. I don’t know yet what the answer to this issue is for me. I know that the events of the past several years of my life have been part of what brings me here today to this “crisis of faith,” where I find myself starting over, unsure of myself, unsure of my place in this world, and thirsting for more than the life half-lived that I had set myself up for. But creating new habits is really difficult, and really putting yourself out there sometimes seems impossible. I guess I will continue to show up as often as I can bring myself to, holding on to the glimmer of hope that I see when I look at the work I am doing, trusting that there is something out there that is better than what the past several years have been.

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