To Dare Greatly

In his speech “Citizenship in a Republic”, given at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on April 23, 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt uttered the words that have since caused this speech to be referred to often as “The Man in the Arena.” He said:

 

“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 best knows in the end the triumph

of high achievement, and who at the worst, if

he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….”

 

This resonates so deeply with me that it almost brings me to my knees. To dare that greatly is thrilling, the epitome of a life lived with purpose, love, grit and grace. That is my heart’s truest aspiration. And yet, the prospect of daring greatly also has and does fill me with a scintillating holy terror. It is a fear of the light, of the liberation of living and engaging authentically with a world that is more often than not wrapped up in a suffocating morass of chronic fears and desperations.

The irony is that we seek light, yet we recoil when we see that to be the inviolate light that we are, we must remove our protective armor, we must be bare. We must walk through the battle field that looks like society today and not attempt to smother ourselves, thus shutting out our innate, liberating brilliance. Marianne Williamson’s quote that Nelson Mandela made famous in his 1994 inaugural address comes to mind: “….It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us….”

I could teach a lengthy course in all the imaginative, desperate, hair-brained, terror-driven ways I have and still avoid showing up vulnerably, authentically everyday, and being that light– come what may. Despite my world-class escape act to forever avoid true authenticity, I obsessively have sought it my whole life with a dogged intensity that surprises me and has given me reason to admire the intestinal fortitude I’ve developed.

This courage and strength has been forged as a result of making myself get out of bed on all the hard days I have ever experienced and deciding to keep going, which is obviously easier said than done. The alternative– absolute surrender to the fear, depression, hopelessness, worst-case scenario predictions, the whole nine yards– does not appeal to me. To me that is the truest definition of death that exists.

Life continues to hold an inescapable promise before me that there is always a way to defuse and challenge the relentless invisible bullying that we feel we are on the receiving end of day after day– from society, our bodies, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. The stories that resound with the theme: we are not, never can be, enough.

I have been given an incredible opportunity to think more deeply about what it means to live “Wholeheartedly”, as author, researcher and sought-after speaker Dr. Brené Brown, calls it in her book fittingly entitled “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.”

I finished the book last night curled up in my bedroom, as the rain gushed ominously down out of the heavens and partially through my bedroom window. I felt about as shaken up inside as the weather appeared externally. In that moment, I desired more than anything to live more Wholeheartedly, feeling as though I routinely fell gruesomely short. I wanted to be free from the fears that would attempt to hold me back from giving all I have and am with generosity, confidence, gratitude and joy everyday.

Throughout the the decade plus years of experience Dr. Brown has in researching what it means to live Wholeheartedly, she has uncovered that which would prevent us from being engaged and fully present in our everyday lives: shame.

You may be thinking, but I am not carrying any shame!

It comes in many subtle forms that are whispered and insinuated to us constantly through advertising, the way we treat one another, ourselves, our planet, since we are a society generally based on a paradigm of scarcity instead of “enough”, writes Brown.

For example, not ____ enough.

We can fill in that blank: rich, attractive, intelligent, young, masculine, feminine, creative, tough, brave, tender, toned, patient, funny, stylish, skilled, skinny….and this list can hypothetically go on forever.

Or, not a good enough _____.

(Parent, partner, son, daughter, real estate agent, student, salesperson, artist, writer, filmaker, scientist, preacher, volunteer, etc.)

And what is this shame, and these qualifiers (i.e. I will be worthy when I am/have ___ — 10lbs lighter, a better toned stomach, a college degree, a boy/girlfriend, when my family approves of me, a house of my own, a corner office)

Brown defines the root of shame as the fear of being unlovable. And then how often do we go and put our inherent worth (WHICH, MAY I ADD, IS INTRINSIC AND DOES NOT NEED TO BE EARNED) on a pedestal that we must…well, be worthy of attaining. Worthy enough to be worthy. Does that make any sense? Something primal in our hearts tell us that there is something wrong with that.

Brown writes that the key to engaging with the world from a place of worth begins and ends with vulnerability:

“Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of feeling hurt. But as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would have been like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.” (Brown, 249)

I can unabashedly and matter of factly say that Brown’s book has changed my life.

As a life-long perfectionist and people-pleaser with a sometimes obsessive compulsion to want to “fit in”, hearing Brown’s research speak soul-full volumes about the necessity of challenging anything we may be carrying around with us that claims we’re less than “enough”, is liberating. Even as I write those words, I feel my heart lighten even a little more.

Like, holy crap! To think that right now, I am enough; you are enough. That’s a game-changer.

I can reflect on all the things I feel I must do to try and prove my worth, my loveability. What if in knowing I was enough right now, I could just stop pursuing all the ways, means, and ends of trying to always “measure up”?

Damn.

Can you just please think about that with me for a moment?

I mean, like really pause and soak that in.

How does knowing you’re enough right now change how you think about yourself, your future? It certainly alters mine.

I am no longer chasing something. I am enough. And that’s enough to satisfy me forever.

But it takes iron resolve, determination, grit, hope, and love to know this, and really know this. Again, to quote Roosevelt:

 

“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…”

 

But to me, truly living, giving, and engaging from that place of vulnerability, worth, and Wholeheartedness is more than worth it’s weight in the struggles it may take to know my, our, inherent worth against all odds. And also worth all the errors and shortcomings I will make and have on this journey of learning.

I’m grateful that I am beginning to learn that during all the moments where I feel inadequate, a complete failure, ugly–inside and out, untalented, unmotivated, not smart/creative/loving/selfless/spiritual enough, I can remember three important words: I. AM. ENOUGH. And that I am worthy enough for that to be true right this second. And that I don’t need to earn it.

It is.

I am.

And you are, too.

(also, please check out Brené’s blog, http://www.ordinarycourage.com; it’s really cool)

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