I’ve always loved the excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 speech that goes:
“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”.
This resonates deeply with me because I consider myself to be in the arena, trying to make a difference. By speaking my truth and sharing my stories, I try to provoke thinking and honest, open conversations. This takes an enormous amount of courage because the vulnerability required to proverbially lay myself bare, leaves me open to massive amounts of criticism. Sometimes the criticism hurts, only because it triggers self-doubt and a fear-based belief of not being good enough. But, I have recently started to learn how to love myself through the process of owning my story and in this continued learning, I silence my inner critic.
As a writer I know that telling my truth, being vulnerable and living authentically means I can easily get my ass kicked. I am learning how to be comfortable with that, because the bigger picture is not about winning approval. It’s about showing up and being seen. That is part of my purpose. And this purpose is not static, it is dynamic. In the hope that my courage becomes contagious, the idea for me is about giving others permission to see that a rise can come after a fall and that it’s okay to be afraid but we need to start waking up and paying attention. Leaning in to our fears and taking a closer look at our darkness is where we start making space for the light and joy to enter our lives. If we are constantly judging and shaming others, we remove our ability for connection and love. How do we ever progress individually or collectively if that remains our default way of being?
I understand the pervasiveness of fear and why it’s easy to default to self-preservation by becoming defensive and critical of others. But, as is self-evident with what is happening in our world right now, it’s become so much more important to take off the game face and armour and allow for our true selves to be seen. This means taking a step back, listening more than talking, and practising our values, rather than simply professing them. When we spend our lives performing, perfecting, pleasing and proving, we negate our truth and become as sick as our secrets. It is incredibly difficult to practice compassion and empathy if we have issues internally that we refuse to look at. Compassion is only real when we recognise our shared humanity and know our own darkness by name so that we can be truly present with the darkness of others. Choosing to live in judgment of others and engaging in shame-inducing behaviour only reveals the pain and fear inside you.
The bottom line is: all of us need to be in the arena. All of us. We need to shift our consciousness from fear-based behaviour into love. Our hopes for a better world for our children rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted behaviour of full acceptance of ourselves and others, which arises from beyond the mind.
Today, choose to walk into the arena, knowing there’s a chance you’d get bloodied and bruised, but also with the sense of pride that by living in your truth, you are giving others permission to do the same.