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Living in the Arena- Answering the Call to Courage

Kirjoittanut: Katrina Cirule - tiimistä SYNTRE.

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Living in the Arena- Answering the Call to Courage


   Vulnerability is often equated with weakness. Many of us hide and deny ourselves thinking that this way we will be protected. Yes, putting oneself out there can feel scary, however, taking risks, dealing with uncertainty, and being emotionally exposed are not weaknesses. (James Madison University) In fact, Brené Brown, shame and vulnerability researcher, in her Netflix movie “The Call to Courage” says: “Vulnerability is the best way to measure courage.” In this essay I will reflect on the movie by looking deeper into what vulnerability is and is not, as well as how it can help one in both business and private life.


   Vulnerability is the home of emotions and feelings. You may wonder why we should choose vulnerability if that means more chances to experience shame, scarcity, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty… Because it is also the core of love, belonging, joy, empathy, courage, and creativity. If we close the door for shame and embarrassment, we are also preventing ourselves from experiencing love. And how can you let yourself be loved if you cannot be seen? (University of Minnesota 2013)


   Belonging is one of the feelings that contribute to meaningful human experiences. Nevertheless, it is often mistaken for fitting in, which, in reality, is the opposite. Fitting in means assessing and acclimating, which implies that one must bend oneself to be a part of the whole. Of course, being thoughtful of one’s surroundings is not a wrongidea; however, one must be mindful of the limits and the cost of that. Belonging, on the other hand, is belonging to yourself first. It is speaking one’s truth and never betraying oneself for other people. Belonging doesn’t require for one to change. It requires being honest and expressing who you are.


   Nevertheless, one must remember to be careful of the extreme of “I don’t give a cr*p what anyone thinks”. Being authentic and speaking your truth is vulnerable and brave, but so is listening to others. Humans are neurobiologically hardwired to care about what others think and neglecting that does not help. The crucial part is being specific about people whose opinions truly matter. The people whose feedback matters. They are “the people who love you not despite your imperfection and vulnerability, but because of your imperfection and vulnerability”. (Brown 2019)


   When it comes to joy, Brené Brown shares an astonishing conclusion: “What scares us is sometimes actually good for us, and if we can stomach sitting with it, vulnerability has the potential to transform itself into joy.” But why is it that joy is the most vulnerable feeling of all? The answer might be found in the urge to imagine the worst-case scenarios in moments of joy, such as, stepping on a stage thinking one will mess up or hugging your loved one and fearing the moment when the relationship will be over. We rob ourselves from joy by dress-rehearsing tragedy and pain. (University of Minnesota 2013)


   However, there is a way to enjoy the joyful times while still staying grounded. Those who truly can feel joy all share the practice of gratitude. It is a choice to use the sense of vulnerability to start preparing for pain or to remind oneself to be grateful. As Stuart Brown, a researcher of play, has defined play a “time spent without purpose”, one’s joyful times don’t necessarily have to make a material benefit or a payoff either. One can just do it for the sake of joy. (Brown 2019)


   Looking from the entrepreneurial perspective, if one is not willing to build a vulnerable culture, one cannot create. Especially nowadays when the competitive environment heavily relies on innovation. For example, the 20% rule in Google- one fifth of an employee’s working time is devoted for them to get creative. Google enables everyone to feel free to generate and share new ideas. (Jarvis 2009) No vulnerability means no creativity, and no tolerance for failure equals no space for innovation.


   What I found especially eye-opening was Brené Brown’s note on leadership: “Brave leaders are never silent around hard things.” Facing the conflicting can feel uncomfortable and challenging the status quo forces us to loosen control. But, as mentioned in her speech: “Your comfort is not at the centre of this discussion.” A brave leader’s job is to excavate the unsaid. Avoiding certain conversations because it makes one uncomfortable is the definition of privilege. Being brave sometimes means stepping away from one’s pride. It can also be acknowledging that, although one might be wrong, one is willing to try to understand and learn. (Brown 2019)


   Vulnerability is not a go-it-alone way. Facing it and letting others see you takes enormous courage. That insecurity is something most, if not all, human beings experience. It can be so strong that one, in order to avoid feeling fragile, goes out of one’s ways not to face it. It can differ from person to person, but the imaginary armour we create to protect ourselves usually relates to these three methods: perfectionism, numbing out, or dress-rehearsing tragedy. By convincing oneself that one “does not do vulnerability”, one engages with patterns that are inconsistent with who one truly is. You can look at it this way- we don’t choose to be vulnerable; we choose how we respond to risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure.  (University of Minnesota 2013)


   In conclusion, I would like to share a realisation from Brené Brown’s experience and research. What is being vulnerable? It is “living in the arena”- choosing courage over comfort. It’s not about winning or losing. Vulnerability is showing up, putting oneself out there, taking risks, dealing with uncertainty, and being emotionally exposed even (and especially) when one cannot control the outcome. Brown’s speech inspired me to reflect on my life too. Lately I have been rather thoughtful about the ways I respond to vulnerability and how that affects my role as an assistant coach. I believe that her speech made me feel much safer in some way… We all learn as we live, and every new person and experience opens a chance to present ourselves as the versions of us we want to see. Perhaps in the time ahead, we choose to answer the call to courage.



Reference list:

  1. Brown B. 2019. The Call to Courage. Netflix movie. Published on 19.04.2019. Referred on 28.09.2022. https://www.netflix.com/title/81010166
  1. James Madison University. No date. Counseling Center: Vulnerability. Read on 02.10.2022. https://www.jmu.edu/counselingctr/self-help/relationships/vulnerability.shtml
  1. Jarvis J. 2009. What Would Google Do? New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
  1. University of Minnesota. 2013. Daring to be Vulnerable with Brené Brown. Read on 02.10.2022. https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/daring-be-vulnerable-brene-brown

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