Tales from the Arena

by Julie Boll  - August 3, 2020


This is the story I made up during my first ever compression planning session as a self-employed consultant. I love the Compression Planning® Methodology and was eager to test it out. I recruited a seasoned facilitator and designed a 4 hour session.  The session was fast-paced, fun and energetic. I was excited at the progress we were making and relieved at the level of engagement I saw in the room.  Then it happened. I got triggered.  

Three and a half hours into the session I brought up a hard, and divisive topic for the group to discuss and make decisions around. We got stuck, and participants were visibly agitated. A board member confronted me, asking how I intended to resolve this issue.   I immediately lost my ability to think and process information and my first instinct was to flee.  I tried my best to answer professionally and quickly moved to shut down the session as quickly as I could.

After becoming a Dare to Lead certificated facilitator, I revisited this story and unpacked a few things.  Here’s what I learned: 

  1. In that moment, I was experiencing shame. Shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”  
  2. The physiology of shame is the same for me every time. I get short of breath and my hands tingle. This is a consistent tell that I am triggered.  Simply understanding this physiology helps me recognize a shame trigger as it’s happening now. With this recognition, I have an extra half of a second to consciously choose my reaction. 
  3. My go-to shame shield is to move away. To hide out and retreat. My challenge and my call to courage today is to stay put and put the armor down. I do this by exercising copious amounts of self-compassion and reminding myself that I’ve been here before, I can do this, and it’s ok to take a break and collect my thoughts if I need to. 
  4. My deep-seated fear is that I don’t know what I’m doing. Shame immediately pops up this message.  It is the SAME message every time. Now that I’ve done the work of writing down my SFDs (Shitty First Drafts) I can spot this message as soon as it pops up and I can discredit it. 

Self-awareness is critical if you want to keep yourself and your brain online during difficult, vulnerable situations.  I’ve found the following Shame Resilience Steps from the Dare to Lead program especially helpful.  

Shame Resilience Steps

  1. Know when you are in shame and what triggered it
    1. Know physical symptoms of shame
    2. Know your shame triggers
  2. Reality check the messages and expectations that fuel shame
  3. Reach out and share your shame story to someone who’s earned the right to hear it
  4. Speak shame by calling it shame. 

The process of writing your SFD helps you get clear around 1 and 2.  Revisiting this story gave me a chance to reflect on a few of my key learnings:

  1. The only way I will grow is to keep doing new things and risking failure. 
  2. Participant questions and frustrations are a sign of passion around the issue and for the organization.  (Four Agreements)
  3. I did it and I’m proud of the fact that I was willing to be vulnerable enough to try. 

Amazingly, what started out as an embarrassingly dramatic conspiracy ended with a resolve to STAY in the arena and continue to do hard things I believe in. The great thing about the SFD is you can write it at any time.  You can write it when you are still experiencing the emotions, or you can write it six months later like I did as a way to go back and challenge your dangerous thinking.

As a hardcore introvert, I am often tempted to skip step 3 and go it alone.  This is a mistake.  Something happens in our brain when we experience connection with another person. The self-preservation center of the brain relaxes and signals to the body that all is well. The part of the brain responsible for reasoning, impulse control, short-term memory and judgement lights up. When we feel connected, we learn better, we remember better, we develop new skills easier, and we reason better. 

If you practice shame resilience, the next time you think someone is out to get you and publicly expose you as a fraud, a small voice in your head will say, “Wait a minute. I’ve heard this story before”.  This split second is an invitation to pause and examine your story.  Pay attention to what is happening in your body, your thinking and your immediate instinct (move away, move against or mow toward).  Practice self-compassion as you move through the experience, and when you are safely out of the situation, take that courageous step of reaching out to someone who has earned the right to hear your story. And finally, capture your experience by writing out your SFD (Shitty First Draft).  Putting pen to paper will let you see clearly some faulty thinking that may be contributing to your shame. This knowledge will serve as a powerful tool for helping you come back online the next time you get triggered.  

If you want to  learn more about the four teachable, measurable and observable skill sets of daring leadership, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead, sign up for a workshop, or invest in getting Dare to Lead Trained. For more information about upcoming Dare to Lead workshops, or to download a SFD writing prompt worksheet, visit www.juliebollconsulting.com/daretolead

Julie is a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator, trained by thought-leader Dr. Brené Brown in March 2019.  Based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown, Dare to Lead™ is an empirically based courage-building program. Brené is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation – Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, and most recently completed a seven-year study on courageous leadership. She is the author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, and Dare to Lead, which also debuted at #1 on The Wall Street Journal and Publisher’s Weekly list.

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