Be Always In The Arena

It is not the critic


Theodore Roosevelt has long been a hero of mine.  But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered this quote.  Over the years I have heard it in bits and pieces, but have never known the true power of the words until I heard Dr. Brené Brown speak on Super Soul Sunday.  The title of her latest book, Daring Greatly, comes from this quote.

My intent, however, is not to rehash her book, it is to question my own absence from the arena.  For the longest time I have stood by and watched others live the life they dream.  I have questioned their choices, given advice (whether is was solicited or not), and made judgements.  I would do this with family, friends, strangers, it didn’t matter.  All the while I comfortably stood outside of the arena, never stepping in.

Growing up the only thing I ever wanted was to be on stage.  I dreamed of being on Broadway.  Singing and wowing audiences with my voice (let’s not even get started on the ego involved here).  I would audition, even though I was petrified of failure.  I spent most of my high school years living inside my local theatre.  When it was time for college I auditioned and was accepted to several colleges for musical theatre.  My dream school; NYU accepted me.  But, fear of debt and ultimate failure kept me from going.  I wound up in a wonderful program at a small school in North Carolina, Catawba College.  I auditioned, performed in shows, won accolades, trained and rehearsed.  After two years it was no longer financially feasible to attend.  I transferred to Florida State University and stepped out of the musical theatre arena permanently.  To this day it is my greatest regret.

My latest passion has been writing.  Full disclosure: I’d love to find a way to do it as my full time job.  But, I do not dare step into that arena.  How could I?  I have bills, I have debt, I have a house.  What would people think?  What would they say about this decision?  How could I really earn a living at writing?  So, I stay on the outside of the arena.  Convinced of failure but never fully investing in a new and daring dream.

I do not dare greatly.  I do not stand proud with a face caked in dust and sweat and blood.  I am not a man Theodore Roosevelt, my hero, would be proud of.

The day has come to step into the arena.  I will screw my courage to the sticking place.  I will brave the ridicule and judgement, whether it’s from others or from my own inner critic. No longer can I stand on the outside looking in.  I must launch myself into the arena and find my happiness, live my passion, and fulfill my dreams.

Take my hand and step into the arena with me.  We can go together.  Courage is greater when we have each other to depend on.  Join me here.


Our Own Worst Enemy

Growing up I always wanted to be a performer. This led me to become a musical theatre major at Catawba College and later at FSU, where I also spent some time as a vocal performance major. I love performing (well singing). But I gave up that dream to pursue the safe route of being a teacher. I began listening to the voices in my head that said I’d never make it to Broadway (my ultimate dream, one I still secretly hold) or make any money performing. When I switched majors and entered the Education department at Florida State I convinced myself that I could still perform.  I even went so far as to tell myself that I could teach drama and still have the best of both worlds.

Fifteen years later I am teaching World History to 11 year olds and the last time I sang in public was for my uncle’s funeral five years ago.  Prior to that was my brother’s wedding. The only places I perform are family functions.  What is key to remember here is that I did this to myself. The person that held me back is me. No one else can be blamed for this, though I have tried.  In the beginning I blamed my mother who planted the seeds of doubt about surviving as an actor.  I blamed college professors that told me that tenors are a dime a dozen in New York and that they’re all working in restaurants as servers. In recent years I have worked several times as a production assistant for a friend that is a casting director for broadway and movies.  This cemented my own doubts to completely shut off any chance to perform. I love working for this particular friend and I love being involved in the casting process. But, I kept telling myself, “I’m not good like these people.” “Broadway requires dancing, you have no rhythm.” I had numerous excuses.
I fully admit that part of my issue is a deep seated laziness that as I approach forty is beginning to finally dissipate.  However, much of my problem has been believing my own negative PR that my inner critic has been spouting to me since I was little. Thanks to myself I fear rejection, I fear being laughed at, I fear the possibility of even minor success.
What I have discovered recently is, I’m not alone in this self sabotage. We are our own worst enemies. Each day I receive a daily dose of Buddhism from, Big Happy Buddha. It is a quote from a guru, or monk, or nun, or even from the Buddha himself. These are great quotes I enjoy pondering.  But what I love most is the tag on all of the e-mails I receive from them, “What you think upon grows.” I have learned that the hard way, as I look back on my life.  The key now, what do I do with this information. How do I convert this lesson to improve my “life unlived”?
Don’t get me wrong, I have made amazing friends, I have loved, I have a fulfilling personal life. I am also finding fulfillment in my life as a teacher, and now as a writer. Dreams do change. But they should not change as a result of doubt. They should not shift because of fear. We often think that we cannot pursue dreams we find unobtainable. We convince ourselves of their impossibility. In high school my favorite teacher often quoted Robert Browning, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a heaven for?” Our hopes and dreams should exceed our capabilities. We must work for the attainment of our happiness. Laziness, doubt, and fear are the enemies of our dreams. Fight each day against them. Rally the forces of your own determination. Fight the good fight. Live the good life chasing your dreams. As Joseph Campbell often said, and I have often quoted here, “Follow your bliss.”