Day 31: The Arena / by Jeff Tacklind

A number of you, in the comments, have mentioned Roosevelt’s "The Man in the Arena" speech.  It is one of my favorites as well.  For those of you that haven’t read it, here it is…

“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.”

I read it the first time in Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, and have picked the book up again per your recommendations (and a little nudge from the library angel), and have been rereading favorite sections.  Brené writes the book in response to her nagging question, “how do people live wholehearted lives?”.  Her findings are that they possess two distinct elements; they embrace vulnerability and they carry in themselves a sense of their own worthiness.

I find this so helpful!  First, as I’ve already mentioned, I find vulnerability agonizing.  So do most of us.  It is inherently difficult.  It is painful to be seen, warts and all. To feel exposed and naked.  Learning to embrace vulnerability takes immense courage and a good deal of resilience.  It is a learned skill.

Worthiness, however, I find equally challenging, but in the opposite direction.  As much as vulnerability can mistakenly feel like weakness, worthiness can feel like arrogance.  I know what unrestrained ego looks like, and it is ugly.  Honestly, I’d prefer to look weak than to look arrogant. The times in my life I most regret are the times when my pride has taken control.  Whenever I’ve thrown sensitivity to the wind, my unrestrained words are almost always regrettable. 

To counteract my prideful ego, I choose a more self-deprecating path. I choose meekness.  I become timid. I stay out of the spotlight.  I sit in the back of the class.  I hide.  This strategy can even come across as virtuous.  “Blessed are the meek…”

But as I withdraw, my self-doubt grows.  I haven’t attained humility.  I’ve only channeled my ego down a road of insecurity. Even though I’m in the shadows, I’m still consumed with myself.  I’m simultaneously hoping to be seen and not seen.  What a mess!

Vulnerability refuses to be insecure.  Instead it allows itself to be seen honestly and truthfully.  And similarly, worthiness refuses to be vain.  Instead, worthiness is a form of self-forgetfulness.  It isn’t plagued by all the concerns of who is thinking what.  It doesn’t need to beat anyone to win.

What I notice about people in my life that are comfortable with their worthiness is that they are at peace.  There is a calm in them and a lack of anxiety.  They know who they are. And they know who they aren’t.

And this natural ease is powerful.  They are the ones who inspire, not just impress.  They are not to be copied or imitated.  Instead, they motivate us to find our own freedom, and thereby our own greatness.  Not greatness in a self-congratulatory sense.  Greatness, as in brilliance.  When we shine like this, it is glorious.

My friend, Rob, once told me, “God is going to insist on your greatness.”  At first I struggled with that word.  But as a father, I get it now.  It is the thing I want to see in my kids.  God is after my “Jeffness”.  He wants more and more of it.  Not some attractive talent of mine that I do my best to exploit.  It is about my essence.  The thing that God sees in me.  And that isn’t just great, it is sacred.

Brené writes, “I believe that owning our worthiness is the act of acknowledging that we are sacred. Perhaps embracing vulnerability and overcoming numbing is ultimately about the care and feeding of our spirits.” 

Which is why encouragement is so important.  We call these qualities out in each other.  As we do, as we learn to accept our worthiness, we gain the freedom to let that light shine.  It is a light that is both glorious and selfless. It is simultaneously vulnerable and worthy. 

When we live like this, daring greatly, we strive valiantly.  We spend ourselves on a worthy cause.  Even when we fail, our lives are triumphant.