Every time I sit down to write a meaningful blog post lately, I face feelings of fear and self-doubt.
Will it be good enough? What if no one cares about this “fearless” stuff? What if I’m making a huge mistake by opening up like this?
For the past year and a half, I’ve been reading and following Brené Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability, but only recently began to deeply study and apply it to my life everyday, including taking online courses, in-person classes and, you guessed it, my very own therapist. I’m working to get to the heart of my own shame issues — some of which you read about in my last post on letting go of perfectionism — that prevent me from really showing up in the various arenas in my life.
What is an arena?
An arena is defined by Brené as any part of your life where you want to show up, be seen for who you really are and live brave. We each have different arenas and likely want to fully show up to them in different ways.
An arena may be a relationship you value with a friend or family member. It could also be school, work, motherhood, church, dating, acquaintances, social media, etc.
My biggest arena right now is blogging, and with it Instagram. In fact, Instagram is a huge shame trigger for me.
I’ve recently been learning about shame shields, the physiology of shame (deciphering what happens to our physical senses when we’re in shame) and why it’s important to be able to recognize when we’re in shame so we can move through it with authenticity.
Side note: If you feel uncomfortable when I mention the word shame, you’re definitely not alone. I’ll break it down more (specifically, the role it plays in my life) in future blog posts. But in short, shame is “the painful feeling or belief that we’re flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
Our arenas are complex.
When you think of an arena, what comes to mind? I see the Roman Colosseum, like in Gladiator, one of my favorite movies ever. The seats in the arena represent the people who send or have sent messages about us, as well as the messages themselves.
For example, in my blogging arena, my struggle has been primarily with the perceived expectations of being a fashion blogger. Early on, I wanted to lean into the discomfort of those expectations, face my fears of being enough, and prove to myself I could do it by exercising courage.
The seats in my arena are filled with the people who have criticized me along the way for “copying another blogger,” “not being fearless for wearing my hair the same way all the time,” and downright “unflattering outfits” (yes, these are all things that were actually said to me).
At times, these messages were my own: “Who do you think you are? You’re not pretty enough to be doing this. Lose some weight already. You better wait until your life is more perfect to share it with everyone.”
I’ve certainly been the worst critic in my own arena. Sadly, I think this is often the case for many of us.
The good news is, my blogging arena seats are also filled with people who support me in my efforts to be my most authentic self. We each have these people in our arenas, even if we don’t think we do. And I’m finding they’re just difficult to hear over the noisy critics section, especially if the critics are in our own heads.
Over time, I realized I had been listening to the messages of fear in my arena, more than the messages of empathy and courage, and I put up my perfectionism shield (my armor) to protect me from the fear of not being enough. At least if I wasn’t sharing my true self, I didn’t have to face the pain of my true self being rejected.
Who is in your arena?
In every arena there are the cheap seats, the box seats, the critics section and the support section.
The Cheap Seats include anonymous critics — those who criticize us, but are not connected to our day-to-day lives. For me, this primarily consists of the anonymous people who sent me the messages I shared above, along with distant acquaintances.
The Box Seats include people who built the arena, or the ones who dictate the expectations we feel me must meet. For me, this consists primarily of people on Instagram whom I perceive as “perfect” and who seem to live life so effortlessly. They’ve set a standard of “perfection” that I often feel pressured to live up to.
The Critics Section includes the messages of comparison, scarcity and shame. These can represent internal messages as well as messages we get from people in our lives. For me, the key is recognizing when those messages are coming from my internal critic — comparing how I measure up to my perception of others, telling myself I’m not pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, strong enough, cool enough, brave enough (and it goes on), and that I’ll never feel love or belonging in this arena because I’m just so flawed (this is shame talking).
Lastly, the Support Section includes the most important seats in the arena: empathy and self-compassion. The people in our lives who demonstrate empathy (not sympathy) for us sit here, as do the supportive messages of empathy and self-compassion. Sitting in this section for me is my husband, my Savior, my family, a few close friends, and I’m starting to dust off a seat for myself.
If we can listen to the people and messages in the Support Section more than the other sections in our arenas, we can overcome the feelings of comparison, scarcity and shame and find the courage to show up and be seen.
But it takes practice. Every single day.
And it’s hard and sucky sometimes.
Learning to live brave.
So while I continue to learn all I can about the stuff that gets in the way of living my own brave life, I’ve never felt more scared and excited to open up. It’s awkward, it’s uncertain, it’s incredibly uncomfortable, it’s absolutely imperfect, but I’m all in.
This is the kind of life I want to live. I want to be brave. I’ve carried the 20-ton perfectionism shield for too long and it’s never made me feel brave or alive… or given me really toned muscles, for heck’s sake.
Facing my fears in an imperfect, brave way is the only thing beyond motherhood that I feel I was born to do. I’m redefining myself with each vulnerable blog post and I’d love to connect with you along the way.
What’s one arena in your life where you want to show up and be more brave?
Even if you’re still soaking this in, I’ve found that identifying our arenas is the first step to finding the courage to enter them.
Then we can get real about what we can take into the arena(s) with us (armor, anthem, mantra, strategies, etc.). I can’t wait to chat more.
And if you haven’t yet picked up a copy of Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, you can do so here. It’s the book on which everything I’m learning is based. And this quote from Teddy Roosevelt that inspired her book title and much of the framing for her work is sure to ignite your courageous heart, too.
Borrowed straight from Brené Brown’s book intro… The phrase Daring Greatly is from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in a Republic.” The speech, sometimes referred to as “The Man in the Arena,” was delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on April, 23, 1910. This is the passage that made the speech famous:
“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 up 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….”