Are You in The Arena or The Stands?

From whom should you take criticism? Someone else who is in the arena or someone who is in the stand. A discussion of Brene Brown's insights.

Share This Post

Are You in The Arena or The Stands?

Brené Brown gave a famous YouTube video about being criticized and to whose criticism you should listen. (If you’re curious, here’s a link to the video.)

She starts by quoting President Teddy Roosevelt:

“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 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 and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the 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 he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

—Theodore Roosevelt
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Brené goes on to share that reading that quote changed her life, and one of the ways that quote impacted her was to recognize from whom she would accept criticism. In short, if you’re not actually in the arena, your opinion doesn’t count to her. It matters whether you are in the arena or the stands.

It’s easy to criticize from the sidelines. We all love to second-guess the choices that others make. One of the most obvious ways that plays out is in sports. How many times have you (or someone you know) criticized that decision a coach made, the way an athlete made a play, or the call that the referee made? If you’re like me, you’ve heard and/or done that a lot.

It’s so easy to do. It’s so easy to be that Monday morning quarterback.

Until you’re the one making the play.

Whoops! Not so easy to hear that criticism then, is it?

But the fact of the matter is that the coach, the athlete, and/or the referee don’t care about your opinion. Nor should they. They are the professionals, the players, the ones in the arena. You are not. Your vote doesn’t count.

And when you’re the one making the play, the votes of the people sitting in the nosebleed section or behind their screens shouldn’t count either.

We let them though, don’t we? We take that criticism to heart, and sometimes that stops us from doing what we really want or need to be doing.

That criticism – or fear of that criticism – can take us out of the arena.

To be fair, that criticism can be harsh and hurtful. Unfortunately, our society today often thrives on tearing people down rather than building them up, especially on social media. We know how vicious people can be. We’ve seen what they’ve done to others, even to people who are more powerful and well-connected than we are.

So, it stops us.

It stops us from speaking up or speaking out.

It stops us from being vulnerable, as Brene points out.

It stops us from being our true selves.

It stops us from living up to our full potential.

Until we decide to get real, like Brené did, and give credence only to those people who are bloodied and battered in the arena too.

Until we decide that not everyone’s opinion matters.

Yes, we need constructive feedback. We need to learn and grow and get a different perspective. That can be painful enough.

But we don’t need to be torn down by people who are sitting in the stands.

What’s holding you back from speaking up? What’s holding you back from fulfilling your dreams? What’s stopping you from making the impact that you want to make?

I hope it’s not the people in the cheap seats, but I wouldn’t blame you if it was. That’s pretty common.

But I will encourage you to rethink their importance in your life. I’d encourage you to evaluate whether their opinion really matters.

Are they worth what you’re giving up to keep them silent? Is their opinion worth keeping you on the sidelines?

Let’s get out into the arena, my friends. Let’s make that impact.

And if you need someone to help you face the critics, let me know. I have a new six-week Clarity Intensive to help you get clear on what arena you want to play in and create a roadmap to get there. I’m offering special introductory pricing right now, so schedule a call to see if it’s a good fit for you.

More To Explore