Kicking Your Critics Out of the Arena

Kicking the Critics Out of Your Arena

Brene Brown, much like Taylor Swift, really speaks to my soul. I talk about her here a lot, and a friend recently introduced me to a fabulous talk Brown gave at a conference for creatives. You can watch it here.

In it, she uses the metaphor of a coliseum-type arena as the place where we display our work, art, ourselves. The place where we must be vulnerable and put it out there. Whatever “it” happens to be. In the audience of the arena are many people, including the critics. Brene says that there are always four internal critics present in our arena:

  1. Scarcity – which asks, “What am I doing that’s original?”
  2. Shame – which says, “You’re not enough. Who do you think are trying to act like you belong here?”
  3. Comparison – Does this one even need an explanation?
  4. Fill in the blank

Only you know who occupies seat number four, and I think the critic in this seat rotates depending on what you’re up to in the arena. I imagined one particular person in my fourth seat that I had almost completely forgotten about. My 12th grade math teacher.

I went to a small Episcopalian high school and one of its (many) traditions was The Senior Chapel Talk. The entire school attended chapel every day at 10 a.m., and at some point during the year instead of our chaplain speaking, a senior would get up and give a 15-minute speech. I was very nervous about my chapel talk. I liked theater and choir and performing, but when it came to being on stage and acting like myself, I was terrified and had little to no experience.

I remember my dad sat down with me at our kitchen table and helped me write my Senior Chapel Talk. Then I practiced saying it aloud in front my mirror about 17 times. When the day came to give my talk, my mouth was dry and my hands were shaking, but I got through it and was so relieved when it was over. After chapel I had math class, and the first thing my teacher said when she saw me was, “Wow, I’ve never heard anyone give a speech so fast!” I was mortified. I was so nervous I didn’t even know I had talked fast and flown through my speech. Her comment echoed in my head for a long time, and since that day, I’ve always told people I that hate public speaking and I’m terrible at it.

We have so many voices like this don’t we? Maybe we have some we’re not even aware of that are taunting us from the nosebleed section, and we’re listening to them even though they’re mean. In her talk, Brown suggests replacing these voices with kind, trusted ones. With the people who love us and cheer for us no matter what and with a picture of the strong person we know deep down we’re capable of being.

One way of conquering my math teacher’s voice was volunteering to do chapel for the company I used to work for. I had 15 minutes (again) and the crowd would be 20-30 people. It sounds small but it was a really big deal for me. And you know what? I was ok. I received kind feedback and I even enjoyed the experience.

Sometimes you have to do the thing that one person told you weren’t good at in order to kick them out of your arena. They don’t belong there. Don’t let them have a seat.

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