Entering the Arena is a Choice

“If you’re brave with your life, if you choose to live in the arena, you’re going to get your ass kicked. You are going to fall. You are going to fail. You are going to know heartbreak. It’s a choice.” –Brené Brown

This is one of my favorite quotes from Brené Brown’s Netflix special, “The Call to Courage.” She explained how after her TED talk came out, she had the worst vulnerability hangover ever, watched Downton Abbey for seven hours, and continued to research the show and other parts of history to numb the feelings of vulnerability. This is when I realized Brené Brown knew everything about me without even knowing me. I cannot count the amount of times I have numbed with TV or movies to avoid vulnerability either before or after it happens.

In her research, she came across a quote form Theodore Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech that says:

"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 least fails while

daring greatly, so that his place shall never

be with those cold and timid souls who neither

know victory nor defeat."

-Theodore Roosevelt

She then continues in her special to talk about her life before and after this quote and the various patterns she recognized in this moment. The first being, “If you’re brave with your life, if you choose to live in the arena, you’re going to get your ass kicked. You are going to fall. You are going to fail. You are going to know heartbreak. It’s a choice.”

I first watched her special as I was beginning a relationship and have watched it probably ten or more times since then. I watched and re-watched her special many times throughout the relationship and many times after it ended a few months later.

Vulnerability, intimacy, and relationships terrify me. There were many times where I shutdown in my relationship and where I wasn’t sure if I could continue because of how vulnerable it felt. But I would watch this and hear Brené talk about how vulnerability is strength and we can’t let fear stop us from entering into connection with others. So I would continually come to the relationship determined to choose courage over comfort. During this time in my life, this is how I was entering the arena.

When the relationship ended, I was really hurt afterwards. I remember thinking to my myself many times over, "fuck vulnerability, this is bullshit."

So a couple months later, I came back to this special and was reminded why I kept entering in, trying, and working at letting myself be known and seen. It is because I was entering into the arena and choosing courage over comfort. And because I was, I’m going to get my ass kicked. I’m going to experience hurt. I’m going to fall and fail. But I continually chose this over and over again because I know at my core, this is where true connection and love is found.

There are many days I do not want to enter into the arena and my stubbornness simply chooses not to. However, me choosing to enter in is a choice. And the days I choose courage over comfort, are days filled with joy, hurt, laughter, tears, connection, failure, and love. This is a day and a life worth living and being fully present in.

On the days that are hardest to enter the arena, I listen to Brené’s special or her podcast and am reminded of what a life lived “daring greatly” looks like and how to live in courage and not comfort. I am reminded that a life lived outside the arena is not a life worth living. But one of risk and vulnerability, especially in the midst of fear, is where life truly takes place