Several years ago, my mother sent me an encouraging quote at a time when I was facing criticism and very discouraged in my work. It meant so much to me that I printed it out and put it on the wall of my office, where it has remained ever since. The words were spoken by Theodore Roosevelt during a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris in April, 1910:
“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 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.” (emphasis mine)
It is with this quote that Brene Brown opens her book.
The quote made an impact on me because as I have matured and come to understand myself more fully, I realize that I am so often motivated by fear. It’s part of who I am and how I see the world.
Not that fear is an altogether bad thing. It’s an essential part of our instinctual nature that has kept us alive since the beginning. Healthy fear protects us from dangerous situations and keeps away from suspicious characters.
But a life ruled by fear is not one fully lived.
If you want to love your life, then you must accept that love requires freedom. And freedom is inherently full of risk. Fear is simply going to be a part of that. So I’m learning to embrace my fear. To let it have its say but not its rule.
This is what Dr. Brown’s book is all about. It’s about standing in the arena of life, being fully present and available for whatever it might bring your way. It’s about being vulnerable — which is not weakness like we think — because the uncertainty and risks of life cannot be avoided.
They must be faced with clear eyes and full hearts.
Failure is inevitable.
Perfect is an illusion.
The question is: Are we willing to step into the arena and fully engage life? If we’re willing to be vulnerable and courageous, we just might find the life we long for. Dr. Brown says it well in the forward:
“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we 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.”
Don’t let fear have the final say. Step into the arena.