"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..." Theodore Roosevelt
Early in our marriage, my husband taught me to love two things: beer and weight lifting. One improved my waistline. The other? Well, not so much. It wasn’t a feigned love to impress my man or his friends. When it came to beer and weights, I genuinely had the enthusiasm and gusto of a new convert.
As newlyweds, we spent our free time hitting the gym. We’d made a posse of good friends at Snap fitness that felt like our little village. When we weren’t there, we were trying the new taps accompanied by french fries and good friends at one of our favorite breweries. Life was full—of laughter, of pleasure, of an optimism that glowed like the bright Sedona sun.
Now, nine and a half years in, through the busy of babies, work, and a mortgage, these two favorite pastimes have taken a back seat. But this love affair we had together over these simple pleasures taught us something. Together Nathan and I learned the value of being all in, in the moment, and opening our hearts to the joy of everyday, as we learned how to share a life together.
When I picture this young in love, naive and passionate couple, I envy how freely they showed up and threw themselves into relationships; how they indulged themselves in the things they loved even on an ordinary Tuesday. The weight of responsibility hadn’t tied them down and the weary worry lines hadn’t drawn commas around their mouth and eyes. They hadn’t collected fears like stones worn smooth by nervous rubbing, or known criticism that could be hurled like rocks that tore holes in their identity.
As I look at the older faces in the mirror, I remember the soft chub of childhood that once padded our cheeks. Worry has carved it away leaving sharper angles and sterner expressions. But if I lean closer, getting a line of wet on my shirt from the lip of the bathroom sink, I see a glimpse of who I was. Something still burns in my emerald eyes that whispers of passion and hope. It beckons me to throw myself all in once again. It challenges me to find the childlike faith that trusts that my heart can not be ruined, but divided and offered up.
“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to
say.” The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
One day at the gym I had my ear buds stuffed in my ears. Unlike my husband who blasted Crossfade and Audioslave when he worked out, I was engrossed in my latest Ken Follet trilogy on audio. I didn’t even notice that as I did my last set of chest presses, my exhales came out as loud, unflattering grunts. I heard muffled laughter nearby and pulled a bud out to detect the middle-aged woman with tight red yoga pants and a top knot, sitting on the bench across from me beside her toned trainer. Her oversized lips were twisted in a taunting smile and her eyes were fixed on me. Shame flushed red hot on my face and I suddenly felt so vulnerable and exposed—like the kid caught in the cross-hares of the school yard bully.
Then I noticed that her trainer, Dustin, gave me a friendly smile. Whenever I saw his perfect white teeth, I imagined them being coaxed to perfection thanks to years of awkward teenage orthodontia. The thought made him seem more relatable, less perfect, despite his carved muscles and chiseled face. He had become a familiar face that Nathan and I had exchange waves and nods with as we passed him on the gym floor. He pointed his finger at me, but his gaze returned to the woman who he fixed his eyes on intently before he spoke.
“I want you to do what she’s doing,” he said.
“What’s that?” the woman asked. Indignation curled up the corner of her question in a loutish lilt.
“She is ‘G’yalling it,” he said and my ears perked up at the unfamiliar word. He talked loudly enough as if I was part of the conversation.
“What does that even mean?” she asked, words soaked in sarcasm.
“Giving it your all. She’s grunting because she’s pushing herself to the limit. That’s how you’re going to get stronger,” he said and winked at me.
I popped my buds back in and moved to a machine across the floor as I rolled the word around in my mind like a bright marble, and tucked it somewhere for keeps.. Dustin’s word, his message, was worth the temporary discomfort of criticism for a memory that reshaped my perspective. “G’yalling it,” wraps language around the way I wanted to approach the gym, my job, my marriage, and life in general. It takes a level of commitment and resolve that does nothing less than grow and strengthen me.
It’s easy to sit back and watch, to aspire, to critique. We all have dreams, and plans, and suggestions. But “g’yalling it” takes action and vulnerability. That’s right. We can’t just picture “g’yalling” as a hulk of a man exerting his muscles with sweat and spit flying. No. Showing up, going all in, and taking decisive action needs equal parts grit and vulnerability as we face resistance, fear, and probably the hardest—our critics—the critics in our own minds, and the ones that pop up like a whack-a-mole when we start living and leading with the boldness of giving it our all.
"A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the
floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The
problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we
lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the
courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let
into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not
interested in your feedback." Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
As we get older we lose the wide-eyed enthusiasm and naive confidence that we’d wear along with our heart on our sleeves. But despite the rejection, criticism, and hard knocks that lead us to want to wear the armor of experience, arrogance, and influence over the skin of our older, wiser selves, we must hold on to the hope of our youth as we choose connection over competition. When we give it our all, in every part of our lives, we choose to let our hearts be seen, and known. This is scary, and it takes courage. We can start small, like on a weight bench, or over a beer, we can watch it grow into daring leaders who aim for authenticity over approval.