If Courage Is a Value That You Hold, Prepare to Be Criticized.
As an avid gym-goer, it came as a surprise when I did not want to go to the gym one morning earlier this week.
I woke up with a horrible headache, queasy stomach, and pretty much feeling like I didn’t have an ounce of energy in me. I feel like I can lose a limb and somehow still find the strength to make it to the gym and lift heavy things, but today was not that day. Despite feeling like I would much rather get a colonoscopy than lift, I drank a big glass of cold brew coffee and muscled my way through the lethargy (pun intended).
It may have been the cold brew, or the fact that it was shoulder day, but once I started, I was in the game. Whatever I was feeling earlier dissipated, and I was breaking PRs (personal records) on all of my lifts. By this time, I am feeling like a rock star, so proud of the fact that not only did I get my tired ass to the gym in the first place, but I was kicking it and taking names. And then it happened.
I was at the end of one of my epic sets when I happened to catch two men looking over, not in an admiring way, but in a snarky way. Now, before you go and accuse me of taking this personally, I can assure you, I am no stranger to judgment in the gym. As a naturally strong woman, I am constantly criticized for my strength and size, and to go even further, accused of not being natural at all.
I am used to the hurtful glances, snickers, comments, and stares that come along with putting myself out there. Trying to stay in my zone and ignore the negativity, I finished up on my exercise and moved on to my next one. Unfortunately for me, their next exercise was also near mine. This time they made no attempt to hide their disapproval of my stature, or strength, or whatever issue they had with me.
It took five seconds for me to go from proud and badass, to insecure and doubtful. Before I could go too far down the self-despair rabbit hole, I remembered a quote I had heard from Brene Brown a day earlier:
“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 them 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, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows 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 fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Now, I want to give Brene props for this great quote, but it was in fact spoken by Theodore Roosevelt in what is known as Citizenship in a Republic speech. It occurred to me that it is no coincidence that I stumbled upon her speech containing this quote a day earlier. Well played, Universe, well played!
Upon remembering this quote, my mind began to shift, and I no longer felt ashamed for who I was or what I could accomplish. See, when people’s identities feel threatened, they will begin to attack yours. This is what Brene refers to as the cheap seats. The critics who don’t show up to be part of the center arena, but instead, purchase the cheap seats so they can judge and criticize those who do.
The problem with the cheap seats is that they are miserable, and as we know, misery loves company. The critics in these seats will use whatever means necessary to break down the (wo)man in the arena so that (s)he is now seated alongside them. It is not enough for the critic to just criticize. True success comes from being able to tear down the person, and strip away his/her identity. To them, that is victory.
The unfortunate thing about life is that the cheap seats will always be cheap, which means, they will always be filled. I mean, who doesn’t love a good show, right? Knowing this, it is important to never allow someone to strip away your identity while you’re being heckled from the crowd. The person standing in the arena is the one who shows up and presents his/her authentic self.
When we show our authentic self, we make ourselves vulnerable, and hecklers love vulnerability. It’s at this point you need to make a choice: show up with courage knowing that the critics will always be there, or hide in the shadows never knowing what the spotlight feels like.
Personally, I would much rather be the person who shows up and fails with courage, than the coward who didn’t have the balls to step into the arena in the first place.
Now some of you might be thinking, “I give zero fucks about what someone thinks about me,” but I assure you, you do! And if you truly don’t, then you should start. Why? These people are our greatest teachers. They teach us who we don’t want to be, what we don’t want to do, what we don’t want to say, and most importantly, how we don’t want to act.
No matter what position you hold in a company, how much money you make, or what stature you have in life, they will be there. In fact, the more visible you are, the louder their voices will get. Remember, they aren’t in the arena, they aren’t the ones invested. They are only there to help knock you down off your ladder in order to feed their own insecurities. Keep climbing that ladder.
Use every word that is spoken and every glance that is given as a foundation for strength. Truly not giving a fuck doesn’t mean you don’t care. It means you hear the critics and use what they say as stepping stones, instead of using them as obstacles and creating a roadblock.
For me, there will always be some guy in the gym, or some person who tries to make me feel like what I am doing isn’t right. True courage is moving forward knowing full well that they will be there again tomorrow, and if not them, most likely another critic. So I will continue to show up, fully exposed in the middle of the arena, presenting my authentic self. Otherwise, I am nothing but a critic myself.
Jennifer L. Mezzio is a certified Yoga instructor, energy healer and life coach. In addition, she is a certified nutritionist and bodybuilder. Jennifer believes in the mind-body-spirit connection, and makes it her life’s passion to motivate and inspire others. She is currently in the process of starting a 501(c)(3), which will help raise self-esteem and self-confidence in victims of bullying. Jennifer lives by the mantra “There is no greater gift in life than giving back.” You could contact her via Balanced Wellness and Nutrition.