Getting Into the Arena


“…sometimes when we are beating ourselves up, we need to stop and say to that harassing voice inside, “Man, I’m doing the very best I can right now.”” ~ Brené Brown, Rising Strong

At some point in our lives, we have been asked to reflect on “who would you most like to meet in your lifetime, dead or alive?”. I suspect our answer might change depending on our age and phase of life, but perhaps it has been the same person as long as you can remember. For me, it is becoming clearer that the person I would like most to meet and spend time talking to is Brené Brown.

Although, I have spoken about Brené’s wisdom and research many times, I seem to learn something new everytime I listen to her speak or read something she has written (even if it isn’t the first time reading it!). I bring up Brené, and am thinking a lot about her, because of an experience I had this past Thursday where I kept reminding myself “what counts is getting into the arena.” She describes being in the ‘arena’ from her book Rising Strong:

“I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time. Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

My ‘arena’ this past Thursday was presenting at a national conference. This was an extremely vulnerable place for me and I would argue probably for most people. Although I felt a bit kicked around by a couple of technical issues and time constraints, I wouldn’t change the outcome of having the opportunity to dare greatly. I believe these are the moments where we learn and grow the most, where we are most vulnerable by reaching beyond where it feels comfortable.

Judging from the sidelines

Sometimes when people are in the arena, it is tempting to stand along the sidelines postulating what should be done instead, how it could be done better, or just plain judging altogether. Brené often speaks about judgment because lets face it, we all engage in it despite our best efforts not to. We may even enjoy it. In Brené’s interview with creative entrepreneur Chase Jarvis, they discuss judgment where she poses the question, “Do you believe in general people are doing the best they can?” Most people, when being honest, would say ‘no’. She then invites us to think of someone we have a lot of judgment around, and to paraphrase, she says, “What if God, the universe or the higher power you believe in, came down and said that person is absolutely doing the very best he or she can do.”

If we believe that, and cannot stay out of judgment, then we must ask what boundaries need to be in place so we can maintain our integrity and be generous toward this person. In fact, the boundaries we set, either voiced or non-voiced, are difficult but essential to many relationships where we feel we can judge from the sidelines. As Brené says, “I assumed that people weren’t doing their best so I judged them and constantly fought being disappointed, which was easier than setting boundaries. Boundaries are hard when you want to be liked and when you are a pleaser hellbent on being easy, fun, and flexible.”

She gives a couple of examples of setting boundaries including: telling a neighbor that you feel uncomfortable when they come over for dinner and drink too much in front of your kids; and giving donations to a family in need that in turn uses the money for such things as drinking and gambling. In the latter example, she says two choices exist – either no longer donate or leave the donations with grace.

However, if we see someone in the ‘arena’, we are more likely to be more generous with our thoughts. It is easier to stay out of judgment when we see that they have made the effort to ‘show up’. Vulnerability is tough, and when we see someone living it, we are more likely to cheer from the sidelines.

Our stories

One of my most favorite aspects of Brené’s teachings is her stories. She is a researcher and storyteller that not only recounts the stories of others, but also of her own life in order to illustrate what she is conveying. We are writing our own stories each and everyday, and in doing so, we have the opportunity to get our asses kicked and fail, but at the same time, we also have the opportunity to rise and grow to become the best version of ourselves.

If you were to do the judgment exercise Brené describes, do you think you would have a different outlook on that person or be able to set some boundaries?



Brown, B. (2015). Rising Strong. Random House; USA.

The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown

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