In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown describes “being in the arena” with someone when she quotes from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship In A Republic”, delivered at the Sorbonne (1910):
The Man in the Arena “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 leastfails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” You can see her talking about this topic here:
What does it REALLY mean to “be in the arena” with someone?
When I think of an arena, I picture a messy, dirty, and unpredictable place full of obstacles and challenges. After all, if life was an “arena,” wouldn’t it be that way? Recently, I witnessed four women be together in the arena. Each one of these ladies “showed up” in this “arena” with feelings of doubt and fear. They all started their day asking themselves, “Can I do this without totally embarrassing myself?” or “Can I do this at all?” or “What if someone laughs at me because I cannot get over an obstacle?” I guess I could go on and on telling you about this, but pictures always tell a better story.
You see, I have watched all these women “train” for this “arena” and continue to doubt themselves throughout the process, but when the day came, they all decided to be present, work as a team, abstain from judgement and be together! I watched them laugh, feel terrified, look confused, cry, strategize, hug, and simply hold hands together. It was a beautiful day for me. The process brought me to tears at times.
A few years ago I adopted a great phrase from a fitness challenge I led with the City of Liberty. It was, “Together we are stronger.” I believe that the arena can be a lonely place…when you are sitting in it all alone of course. It can feel cold, dark and miserable. Something magical and epic happens when we adopt the “together we are stronger” attitude and OTHERS join us in the arena. In an instant, we feel validated, braver, and most of all we feel like, “Damn it! I am ENOUGH, and I can do this!” SO.WE.DO. IT.
For instance, these ladies were scared silly to jump into this ice cold water. They counted. One…Two…Three, looked at each other as if to say, “Holy Shit,” plugged their noses and JUMPED.
balls to the wall groupartic together 1artic together 2
And, when they crawled out of the cold water, they waited for one another, hugged, said a few more choice words as they waited for their head rushes to pass and ran on – TOGETHER.
AND THEN there are times in life when you just need a friend to “walk the plank” with you. In that moment together you are all thinking, “What and why am I doing this, crap?” Then, you get brave, jump off together, and come out of the water high fiving and saying, “Hell, yes!”
It’s this one picture that hits me hard and makes my eyes fill with tears. I stood next to this amazing woman most Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 5 a.m. for the last 7 years. She personally challenges me and being “in the arena” with her is flat out inspirational. You see, for Cindy, “the arena” is NOT defined simply by this day even, but instead a life long battle which she has decided WILL NOT DEFINE HER.
Cindy has Rheumatoid Arthritis. It has been a part of her life since she was a young girl. She has VERY little moment in her wrists. Look closely at her in this picture and peer into her determined eyes. YOU WILL SEE COURAGE! This is her 3rd Tough Mudder. She has faced these difficult monkey bars 2 times prior and failed to get across them. ON THIS DAY she crossed these monkey bars. It was an emotional moment. It was an epic moment. When Cindy finished those monkey bars, she jumped down and cried. Still today, I am not sure if she felt the tears swelling up while crossing or if it hit her just seconds after her feet hit the ground. One thing I do know is that this moment was the best “obstacle” story from THIS arena.
In the end, the victory is for those who shared the experience in the arena together. Those who have sweat together, cried together, laughed together and sat in the mud together. Who is in the arena with you today? Who will accept you just the way you are today, whether in the dirt and mud or in the crisp sunshine? Who is striving valiantly for the cause with you?