Forty Things I Learnt Before Turning 40: Lesson Eighteen

I learnt to ignore the noise (both internal and external) and step into the arena anyway. For the last 6–7 years, I have become a massive fan of Brene Brown’s work. Her TedX talk on the ‘Power of Vulnerability’ was my first entry point to her work and it really transformed the way I think about the way I live, personally and professionally. It was through her books that I was introduced to Theodore Roosevelt’s inspiring ‘The Man in the Arena’ speech.

“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.”

It is hard not to feel empowered by his words. In times when I doubt myself and my abilities, or get caught up worrying about what other people will say about me and how they will perceive my efforts and actions, I only have to remind myself that at least I’m stepping into the arena. At least I am giving it a shot. That it’s so easy to sit on the sideline and criticise when you’re not doing the work yourself. And finally, why would I take any notice of those who aren’t willing to put themselves out there and do what I’m doing.

When I discovered this speech, it was so liberating and allowed me the freedom to be ME! I began to make the decisions I wanted to and not be deterred by the voices of others, or the fear of getting things wrong and how people would judge me. And most importantly, I created a new inner dialogue, talking myself INTO things, rather than OUT of things. At the end of the day, I’d rather end up at a destination I chose for myself, rather than get somewhere and realise it was a journey other had influenced me to take, ending up in a place that wasn’t necessarily my decision or intention.

James Smith describes in his book, ‘Not A Life Coach’ how “everyone is climbing the ladder of life to see who can get to the highest rung. However, I don’t see too many people taking a moment to really think whether they’re climbing the right ladder. It doesn’t matter how high you climb it if, when you get to the top, you realize you’ve climbed the wrong one. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going, if you’re not going in the right direction.”

That’s not to say I don’t go to people for advice or seek feedback. What it means, is that I’m mindful of WHO I listen to. In this day and age of social media, everyone has a thought and opinion on everything, whether it’s right or wrong, ill-informed or educated. What is important to remember, is you don’t have to listen to them all or take on board what they think or say. One thing I learnt from Michelle Obama, is how to react in those times when the voices you are facing are fuelled by negativity and judgement.

I love her quote, “When they go low, we go high,” and use it often, particularly in my head, to remind myself of the best course of action or how to respond to others. Michelle explains that “Going low is easy, which is why people go to it. It’s easy to go low. It’s easy to lead by fear.” She also explains that “going high” isn’t about overlooking the negativity however. “[It] does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty,” it means “taking the harder path, standing fierce against hatred.”

I’m in a point of my life now where I’m so happy that I’ve come to a place where I am comfortable and confident in my own skin, that I can put myself into the arena, back myself, know who to turn to for support and how to shake off the haters.

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