“If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

This quote, credit to Brené Brown, just makes me want to applaud.

In the spirit of Brené’s philosophy on vulnerability, I want to let you know that I debated saving this blog post for a later time. I found myself so inspired by this quote and knew that I would enjoy writing about it; however, the inner critic in me thought that it might be better for you to have a chance to read a few warm and fuzzy posts before starting off a post with profanity. The inner critic told me to water myself down a bit in order to be well-received.

The braver part of me realized that starting off with warm and fuzzies would simply not be authentic; this would not give you an accurate depiction of who I am as a person or therapist. I sincerely believe that good work in therapy takes place between two people who have an energetic compatibility, and part of my purpose in keeping a blog is so you can get to know whether we would work well together.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the importance of kindness, warmth, and living life with grace and compassion. These things naturally become woven into the fabric of who you are when you are a therapist or healer. But I also have an edge. We all do. We all have that part of us that wants to keep it real, that wants to show up authentically and be seen. This edge is the difference between who you really are and the person you think people want you to be.

Most people spend a lot of time and energy teetering this edge. We all have something important to say, something unique to offer, or something creative to share — and we often end up diluting it or muting it. Because we are afraid that it won’t be quite enough. We are afraid that what we have to offer will be greeted with criticism — or even worse, silence.

So we learn to be a certain way, and our true selves end up getting buried. If you have seen the episode of Friends where Joey is wearing several layers of clothing (“could I BE wearing anymore clothes?!”), this is what I want you to picture. Each time that we hold back what we really feel, we cast on another layer that covers up what’s inside. Add a layer of disconnection. Then a layer of self-doubt. Then a layer of perfectionism. And before we know it, we feel like we are in a blazing sauna because of all the layers and we aren’t sure how to escape. So we self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, shopping, eating, and all these other things that distract us from the pain of actual problem, which is that we are wearing 30 layers of clothing and that the only way to stop sweating is to start taking the layers off. The numbing helps us feel better for a short-time, but it doesn’t get to the root of things.

It’s really hard to shed the layers, because these layers now feel like the real you. You’ve been wearing them as a suit of armor for so long that you don’t even know what’s under there anymore. You may think, “What if what’s inside is scary? What if I don’t like what’s in there? What will everyone else think?”

To go back to Brené Brown’s quote, shedding the layers is like going to battle in an arena. You are suited up and ready to go with Joey’s clothing as your armor. The layers protect you from fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. But… these layers also diminish your ability to feel all the good stuff, like compassion, joy, and creativity. The thing with numbing is that you can’t selectivity numb. If you numb the negative emotions, you numb all the positive emotions too.

What is it worth to you to feel the positive things? Are you willing to go into the arena, shed those layers, and feel vulnerable in order to experience true joy and fulfillment?

You will undoubtedly feel like everyone is watching. It may feel like complete hell to shed that first layer because you know that some people are going to criticize you. Acknowledge that, and also acknowledge that there is nothing that you can do about the it. The critics will always be there. So it’s important to recognize them (“hey guys, I see you, welcome”) followed up with Brene’s words of wisdom: “If you aren’t in the arena also getting you ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” Anyone can sit on the sidelines and judge your efforts to do something brave. It’s a cheap shot. But getting sucked into feeling bitter about the critics or hateful toward them doesn’t serve you. It takes up space and dims the light of your bravery and courage. So rather than wasting your energy on them, just simply give them a nod and take pride in the fact that you are getting your ass kicked, getting dirty, fumbling, and ultimately working toward something amazing.

I’ll leave you with a final thought. No matter what it is you are working toward, whether it be going back to school, trying for that promotion, or working on bettering yourself as a human being through counseling, it’s not about the end result. This may sound cliché, but it is so. true. The process and the journey that unfolds as you work toward what you think your goal is ends up taking you down roads you never expected. Each time you take an act of bravery or courage, you change a bit. And you may end up forgetting what the original destination was as you begin to experience infinite possibilities you create for yourself by being brave. Being brave does not have to be some big thing that everyone sees. It can be accepting a compliment; trying something new; or doing something that makes you feel even slightly uncomfortable.

Bravery is like strengthening a muscle- each time you take a brave step, it gets a bit easier. For a while, you may feel like an imposter each time you do something brave. But this imposter syndrome won’t last. Over time, repeatedly doing brave things will become an inextricable part of who you are.


Resources:

Daring Greatly, By Brene Brown
Brené Brown: Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count

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