On the first day of school, my third-grader put on his new bookbag and then he put on a big smile too. I was so struck by his bravery.
We went through all the usual reminders you’d give a child who is preparing to go to a new school, and then added a few more: where his lunch box would be, where he would be sitting in the cafeteria, and where his epi-pen would be housed for the year.
As much as it takes courage for any kid to go to a new school, it takes something more in this case. My son has a severe peanut allergy. The smallest accidental ingestion could be fatal.
We would have to rely on this eight year-old’s own good choices and the support of an entire, new to us, school staff to move him safely through each day. My son – my brave, vulnerable son – was stepping into the arena.
“Stepping into the Arena”
That’s a phrase from Brene Brown’s research into the power of vulnerability. But she originally got it from Theodore Roosevelt who gave credit not to the critic, but to the person who actually stepped into the arena.
We recognize “the arena” every time a child passes a new milestone like riding a two wheeled bike for the first time or getting on stage to perform in a dance or play. But with every act of everyday bravery, we’re all stepping into the arena. Every time my son leaves the house focused on staying safe even as he refuses to allow his peanut allergy to control him, he’s achieving something.
Every time you try something new, you’re allowing yourself to be brave and vulnerable
Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability is at the forefront of my mind right now because I’m taking part in her new training program, The Daring Way™ Certification. I’ve wanted to study with Brené ever since I first watched her TED talk on the power of vulnerability some years ago. It resonated with me on a personal and professional level because I could understand how it was a gateway into a more authentic and wholehearted life. I knew I wanted to delve deeper into the research and develop my own practice of being vulnerable.
And let me tell you: I need to study up. As much as I believe in the power of being vulnerable and authentic, the anxiety and fear that comes with those two words can totally overwhelm me.
Luckily, Brene’s work is all about helping us get from that fear place to a place of sharing, compassion and connecting. The more you live in that connected place, the more you’re able to release some of the fear, anger, and hurt that we all carry around. So much of the Daring Way is dedicated to understanding we’re not alone. Just about everyone has a hard time being vulnerable and sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings.
When you let go of a fear of being yourself, you open yourself to evolve and transform, and that brings hope to all parts of life.
While I am pretty excited about the certification, I am also diving into a new territory. It will bring me to vulnerable places where I am sure to feel exposed. I feel tugged between my family’s needs and the time the certification demands. I worry that my fellow participants will be more adept at being daring and have spent time in much bigger arenas than I have. Anxieties and “not good-enoughs” that aren’t part of my typical routine are cropping up as I try something new.
So, I take a look at other times when I’ve stood at a growth edge, when have I stepped out of my comfort zone and into the arena. Going to grad school, studying abroad, saying “I do” and committing to creating a family with my husband… those are the big things. But, on a smaller scale, my son helps me realize that I am being brave everyday. Showing up for my clients, giving my kids what they need to grow, and even just taking good care of myself are ways I show up in the arena of life.
The brave thing is often the opposite of the easy thing
Here’s something to remember: we often do the brave thing when we refuse to do the easy thing.
In my case, skipping my regular run and eating whatever is available often seems simpler. Finding the time and energy to exercise and prepare foods that really nourish me can often feel like a major inconvenience. Self-care is something of a private arena, and it’s easy to say “I don’t feel like showing up today.” But, when I honor my own needs and vulnerabilities, I realize that moving my body and eating well isn’t optional – not if I want to be the partner, mom, and professional I know I can be.
And while we all have our own private arenas, like self-care, there are many other arenas that are very public and can feel a lot riskier. If, for example, you are separating from a spouse or leaving a job, you likely spend a lot of time questioning what people will think and how they’ll react. Fear of failure and all the “not good enoughs” can creep in and can stop you from making a difficult change in life – even when you know in your heart that leaving is the right thing to do. In the short term, it may seem easier to avoid making yourself vulnerable to criticism and scrutiny, but, ultimately, you need to step into the arena in order to be true to yourself.
What does everyday bravery look like for you?
Those big changes I listed above – like leaving a relationship or a job that no longer serves you – you might not need to make those sort of shifts or you might not be ready to right now. Please understand bravery isn’t always about making huge transitions. Anytime you take a risk, try something new, or lean into your growth edge you’re practicing the art of being vulnerable.
Everyday bravery is what inspires you to call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while or reach out to create a new friendship. Asking for a raise, going to a new gym or workout class, and going to the doctor are all ways you are being vulnerable. Family life asks us to be courageous all the time too: having children, reaching out to hold your partner’s hand, or building relationships with the neighbors so your families can be there to help one another in a pinch.
All these big and little leaps we take put us in a spot of feeling vulnerable because we can’t be sure how people will react or what might happen. As much as we celebrate the bravery it takes to be vulnerable, it’s important to remember just why it’s so hard to be vulnerable with other people: we can’t control how they’ll react. You may pour your heart out to a friend over the phone, but they’re too distracted with their kids to really hear you. You might end up feeling betrayed because you weren’t heard. In this case, it’s easy to decide that sharing the vulnerable parts of yourself is just too hard and doesn’t really pay off, but it’s important to remember that a big part of stepping into the arena is about showing up to be brave again and again.
Even if you are not prone to taking risks, or hate the idea of it all together, I bet you can find places in your life where you are being brave and you’ll realize something beautiful happened as a result. What we do in those moments of vulnerability helps shape who we are.
What arenas are you stepping into? When you take a look at all the small ways that you are being courageous, it can have a big impact on your own growth. Acknowledge the moments when you are already doing the hard work of reaching out and connecting with others. When you witness your own first small steps, you gain momentum and you can continue walking into the arena – even when you may want to run the other direction!
Everyday bravery requires practice and support
If you need help surrounding any of these arenas you are stepping into, I urge you to reach out and connect with a trusted friend, a family member, or a therapist like myself. Though stepping into the arena and being brave is a very personal act, you don’t ever really enter the arena alone. It is in connection and sharing with others we thrive. We all rely on the attention and support of others to become the truest expression of who we are.
We’re a few weeks into school now and my son has done really well. Ultimately, it’s his everyday bravery that makes it possible for him to be just another happy third-grader, but his success depends on an entire caring community. He’s learning some special things thanks to his condition: it’s ok to ask for help and we all rely on each other in ways big and small.
I’m here to help you build your inner strength so you can show up in your life and dare to ask the people in your life to show up for you. I am a Certified Daring Way Consultant-Candidate and am now offering various tools as a part of this certification. Head over to The Daring Way™ page for more information on offerings. If you need someone to talk to in the Martinsburg area, we’re here to help. Contact me at Be Well Counseling Services to set up an appointment.
Watch Brene Brown – “The Power of Vulnerabity”