What’s “the Arena”? Performance 101

  • Alexa Miller
  • September 17, 2020
“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.”
–Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship in a Republic, 1910

If you want to be in the Arena, you don’t get there by way of drifting through life.

The Arena is a place of action, and yet it is consciousness that defines its nature: to have an Arena in the first place, you need to have intently decided: This. This is the thing I will show up for. The thing that puts my most cherished values into action. The thing around which I will design my life so that I will not only show up well, but show up better and better each time.

The Arena is the space for that thing, for the body doing that thing. It’s a context for risk. People act differently in different contexts. Think of yourself in different spaces. What are the contexts in which you are raucous, loud? What are the contexts in which you are reserved, quiet? What are the contexts in which you have swagger? (Ok silly question, you always have swagger) When it comes to developing excellence, context is an interesting thing. What happens in one context has everything to do with how far you can go in another, some of which is predictable, and a lot of which as unexpected as it is tied to the very best of our unique human nature.

The Arena is there so that you can ask, and test: how far can we go?

The rules of the Arena are established so you can accept and fully take the risk with and for others­–the only way to tap human potential­–and play all-out while holding the sanctity of safety.

Performance is the knowledge deployed in the Arena. As Kristen Holmes describes, “performance is the science of human thriving.” It has three key aspects:

  1. The identification of the internal and environmental conditions that catalyze individuals and teams to play at their best.
  2. The understanding of the physiology of stress and fear and anxiety, and of our interdependence with others.
  3. The disposition to apply this science in one’s own body and lifeworld so to catalyze growth.

Performance knowledge springs from across sectors concerned with bodies and the care for human life. In recent years, a revolution in this knowledge has been driven by research and applied science in athletics, the military, and the performing arts.

At the end of the day, performance is a mindset: the humility of the expert learner. It is the trust in a collective’s ability to perform at its very best by nature of its diversity. It is deep curiosity about human nature, rigor in applying findings. It is a love of humans and what we might be able to do when we are working from the very best of our nature. And it is the wisdom to know that what you can control and what you can’t, with a big appetite for full ownership of what you truly can—a lot of it an inside job.

The Arena is the place for performance, for which we’ve relentlessly trained and practiced.

The place in which we activate, and then see what happens.