An email popped into my inbox from Courageworks at the beginning of last week announcing a new workshop taught by Brene Brown and Kristen Neff. I am a big fan of both of these women not least because the work they do is grounded in really thorough and robust research. I first came across Brown’s work about courage and vulnerability some years back when writing my dissertation on courage within psychotherapy, and I really resonated with the following reflection of hers:
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
According to Brown the really good things in life are often borne out of struggle and risk-taking, and in her book Daring Greatly she makes the link to Roosevelt’s rousing speech in 1910 at the Sorbonne when he said:
“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 short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows 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 know neither victory nor defeat. “
Her work is beautifully complemented by Kristen’s whom I stumbled upon when training in mindfulness a couple of years ago. Kristen has done some pioneering research into the subject of self-compassion, is a wonderful advocate for fostering a more compassionate mindset towards ourselves, and I believe talks a lot of sense when she suggests that such an attitude may be far more beneficial for us than building our self esteem.
It seemed thus that the Universe was trying to teach me a lesson when later in the week I was further reminded of their work whilst discussing the merits of adopting different mindsets towards problems and challenges during a workshop with a group of business communicators. The exercise that brings this to life (more of that another day) is a little unorthodox and required a practical demonstration on my part to help illustrate the concept.
I soon realised this meant stepping into the arena and having the courage to share some material with the group that had the potential to leave me feeling a little exposed. As always I never fail to learn something about myself and others when embracing the group process. Not least the importance of ‘walking the talk’, after all how otherwise can we expect to be taken seriously (or have others follow us) as leaders, line managers, colleagues or indeed course tutors if we too don’t take the risks we ask others to embrace. It is in so doing that we establish our credibility, get to flex our empathy muscles and are able to step into the shoes of the other in order to better understand what’s going on for them. Paradoxically it is at the same time often the place where we are at our most vulnerable; however in my experience it also continues to be where more often than not the learning or insight shows up.
So to the group who, despite your misgivings, had the courage to step into the arena with me (you know who you are), I salute you and remind you to be kind to yourselves as you experiment with your insights from this exercise over the next few weeks. And to my co-facilitator, a big thank you for yet again holding the space in order for me and others to risk stepping outside our comfort zones in the service of learning something really valuable about ourselves and the often unexpected resources we might have available within us if we simply take the time to look.