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What have I learnt this month?


Well it’s the end of the month and time for me to share “what I’ve been learning this month”.  This month has been all about Brené Brown for me as I’ve been doing a “Dare to Lead” for coaches’ programme and I’m about halfway through.

There is lots in this programme (and all of Brené’s books) that is really interesting and uplifting as well as really deep and quite difficult.  I know that a lot of it will emerge in my coaching programmes and practices and will be really helpful for me as well as for my clients.

The aspect that I’d like to share today is a concept that Brené refers to as The Arena because I think it chimes with what we all experience within our careers and will particularly chime for people looking for a new role and striving to create a career they love.  In this article, I’d like to try to share the concept of The Arena in that career context.

The Arena

“The Arena is a metaphor for a moment or experience when you share yourself (your ideas, feelings, opinions, experiences, art, etc.) knowing that you can’t control the outcome or what people think.”

So many of my clients are stepping into their Arenas on a daily basis at the moment.  Sharing themselves on CVs, on social media and in interviews.  You absolutely step into these moments and experiences with no ability to control the outcome.

All around your arena there are different “Sections” divided into The Critics and The Support Section.

The Critics Section

These occupy three main areas:

The Cheap Seats

These are reserved for people who hurl advice, judgement and criticism but who rarely step into the arena themselves.  In a career search, these might be people who call you out on social media, criticise you without your permission or offer unhelpful advice.

The Season Ticket Holders

These are comparison, scarcity and shame.  These might manifest as “they’ve got more likes than me, they’re better”; “there aren’t enough jobs to go round at the moment and I’m going to miss out”; “I’m no good and no company will want to employ me.”

The Box Seats

These are the people who built the arena to benefit themselves and others who they believe are “like them.”  They determine our odds of success in the arena based on stereotypes, misinformation and fear.  They chip away at our confidence

The Support Section

The Arena sounds daunting doesn’t it?  No wonder we feel like we need to put our armour on before entering it.  However, within your Arena, there is also a Support Section. 

The Support Section consists of two key areas: empathy and self-compassion.

Empathy comes from others and we all need at least one person in our lives who treats us with pure empathy.

Self-compassion, of course, comes from ourselves.  A coaching question that I frequently use is: “What advice would you give your best friend?” Learning to talk to yourself, with as much love and absence of judgement as you would talk to your best friend, is a powerful tool.

So what?

I hope that I’ve explained the concept of The Arena in a way that resonates with you.  During the training programme, we considered some useful questions to help you explore your own arena.  Here are a few:

  • When you are in the arena, being courageous, which section do you look to first?
  • What messages do you receive from your different Critics Sections?
  • Who is in your Support Section offering empathy?
  • Do you ever sit in the seat of self-compassion?

Finally, I will leave you with the quote from Theodore Roosevelt that changed Brené Brown’s life:

“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 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.”

Here is a 3-minute video of Brené explaining this quote and her paraphrasing:

“If you’re not in the arena with me getting your ass kicked then I’m not interested in your feedback.”

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