Showing up with Critics, Courage, and Conviction

Showing up can be scary. I’m not talking about showing up as a spectator, but actually stepping onto the stage. Not necessarily a literal stage but putting yourself out there. I’m talking about embracing a challenge with the realization that people will see you if you stumble and fall. I’m talking about taking that risk in front of everyone. Vulnerable. Naked.

It takes courage and conviction to be vulnerable and naked in front of our critics. But as a dear, wise friend recently told me, anyone who refuses to participate in the challenge has no right to be a critic. I submit that it takes courage and conviction to just be vulnerable and naked by yourself. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to either you or himself. Often, the biggest critic lives in our head.

We all face personal and professional challenges that start out scary. The “what ifs” get louder. What if I can’t… ? What if I don’t…? What if I won’t…? Images of failure, judgment, and ridicule that are all far worse than any real experience. It’s that inner critic who reminds us of more failures than victories. The inner critic convinces us that the negatives feel worse than the positives feel good, and the perceived threats are worse than the real ones. The brain has a way of tricking us that way.

The inner critic isn’t all bad, though. It’s this conflict between fear and conviction that is the impetus for courage…with no one around, with no one watching. Alone, vulnerable, and naked, we quiet the fears in our heads enough to take that first baby step forward, and then another, and another. The hope is that with each step, we gain enough experience and confidence to keep going. With each step, the negative images fade and we can begin to see success come into focus.

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. Fears are paper tigers.

~Amelia Earhart

Ultimately, if we are really lucky, we realize that the real reward comes from being vulnerable and naked, not despite it. It’s the difference between stepping out of your comfort zone to stretch and grow and playing it safe because you’ve accepted that you’re done stretching and growing. Think about that for a minute… done stretching and growing? If you can’t wrap your head around that, you’re not done.

That same wise friend told me about a Brené Brown talk in which she shares the quote that changed her life. As a long-time fan, I was surprised that I had missed this.

But, for someone who has spent her career studying courage, empathy, and vulnerability, it doesn’t surprise me to know that this quote by Theodore Roosevelt was the one that she clung to:

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.

It’s hard to talk about Brené Brown without sharing one or two or twelve of her quotes that have impacted me in a profound way. This one seems appropriate here:

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

There is nothing more frightening than the moment we decide to expose ourselves to the critics of the world. There is also nothing more liberating than that moment when we refuse to let them fuel our self-doubt, fear of judgment, and failure and block the path to success. When the critics show up, it takes courage and conviction to say, “I see you. I hear you. And I’m doing this anyway.”

Courage doesn’t mean there is no fear. Courage is the measure of how much your fears challenge your convictions.

So, what are you running from? Stop running. Be vulnerable. Get naked. Get gritty. Dig deep and take that first hard step. Be grateful for those who support you along the way, and invite your critics to stay and watch… but tell them to stay the fuck out of your way.

You can quote me… ;)


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

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