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  • Writer's pictureClarissa Tapia

Meet me in the arena?

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

I am excited to share with you my current obsession: Her name is Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who is a New York Times Bestselling author pioneering research on vulnerability and shame. Her TED talk - "The Power of Vulnerability" is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world. The reason her research is so powerful, is because it speaks to the deepest, darkest part of our souls, the parts we don't want to share with anyone for fear of being judged or shamed. We think that we are the only people in the world who feel this way, but the reality is, shame is universal.

In her book Dare to Lead, Brown brings up a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that's been rattling in my head for days:


"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; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again... 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."


Take a moment to let that soak in. What resonated with you? Where do you see yourself? Are you in the arena battling valiantly? Or are you in the cheap seats, criticizing those who are? Let me tell you where I saw myself when the branch manager position opened up at my office. I'll give you a clue, it definitely was not in the arena. I have never really been seduced by the idea that putting people down will get you where you want to go. What I do struggle with is with my own self-doubt. Am I really enough? And when I muster the courage to get past this, the next immediate thought is, Who do you think you are? As I am sitting in the spectator seats of my life's arena, I'm thinking to myself, you can do this. You know your agents, you love your boss, you've grown exponentially as a realtor, you can make positive changes for this office. My negativity gremlins however were whispering things like: You haven't even been here two years, what could you possibly offer? The people you would manage have way more experience than you, they will never follow your lead. They are also older than you are, they know better than you. Maybe wait another couple of years, you'll get another shot. (Reality check: you don't get many second chances.) My brain was fried between wanting to help my company and my own self-preservation (Don't rock the boat, you know how this will end). Before I could talk myself out of it, I went ahead and spoke to my broker. I laid out my ideas to her as well as my strengths and doubts and event identified things I was afraid of. She looks at me and says something along the lines of, I believe in you, let's give it a try. Let me tell you that the first thing I wanted to do was what Brown calls armoring up because the cheap seats went wild. There are so many different ways we armor ourselves hoping to avoid vulnerability. In Dare to Lead, Brown describes some of the ways we armor up in leadership positions, and how it affects our ability to lead. In reading this section I felt that we can apply these "armored behaviors" to our everyday lives.

For example, One of the ways we armor ourselves is in striving for perfectionism - "Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgement and shame."

Another way Brown describes armor is hiding behind cynicism - "Cynicism and sarcasm are first cousins who hang out in the cheap seats. But don't underestimate them - they often leave a trail of hurt feelings, anger, confusion and resentment in their wake... The word sarcasm is from the Greek word sarkazein, meaning 'to tear flesh.' Tear. Flesh."

My personal armor of choice, zigzagging and avoiding - "Zigzagging is a metaphor for the energy we spend trying to dodge the bullets of vulnerably - whether it's conflict, discomfort, confrontation, or the potential for shame, hurt, or criticism," writes Brown.

In an effort to avoid conflict, or criticism, I didn't do much in my new position. I was scared. If there is one thing I have learned, and it took me a while to learn this, it's that if we don't face our fears, they end up owning us. It took me longer than it should have to feel confident enough to make changes, offer input, create new traditions, expand on old ones, and ultimately trust my own decisions. Had I recognized my behavior early on, perhaps I could have avoided hiding and instead impacted my office early on. For now, I am still in the arena, offering value to my company in ways I never imagined - by being myself. Things are not easy, and not every effort for change has been or will be successful, but I know it's worth a shot. By choosing to put myself out there, I have to come to terms with the fact that I am going to fail, but I'm still going all in.

I will finish with this: When asked what message she would like her audience to remember, Brown said,

"Vulnerability is the best measure of courage." See you in the arena.



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