Unstoppable Lessons

Who is in the Arena with you?

Who is in the arena with you

Who is in the arena with you when you face a difficult decision

Who is in the arena with you when you have a crazy new idea?

Who is in the arena with you when you want to explore new territory?

If you have ever shared an idea with someone and felt like a complete idiot afterward, you understand the importance of the above questions. Or maybe you poured your heart out to the wrong person, leaving you feeling even more isolated.

You can not talk to everyone about everything. Knowing who to talk to in specific life situations is essential to your success. Below we will define the key elements to help you determine who to talk to about different journeys in your life.

Let’s start with the arena

To get started we first need to examine the famous passage by President Theodore Roosevelt, “The Man in the Arena”.

“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 knows victory nor defeat.” 

This quote first caught my attention in Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. Now every time I read this passage I envision the arena as a boxing ring. In my mind, the arena is the mat and there I lay with my face marred by dust and sweat and blood.

My arena is probably different than yours. Our journey was probably not the same. The opponent we face and how we face them will vary.

With all the differences, some things will be the same. The arena is where we will have to make difficult decisions. Who we invite onto the mat with us is critical. We must also recognize the critics on the other side of the ropes who can knock us off our feet with their words.

As we are lying on the mat, bloody and sweaty from our fight to succeed, we must look around and ask ourselves – who is on the mat with us? Who is in the arena with you? Who has our back in this fight?

Identifying the Who

Identifying who to invite into the arena with you is extremely important. Your who will be monumental in determining your next steps so proceed with caution. Here are a few questions to help you determine your best who

Who deserves to be in the arena with you?
Who has been there and done it before?
Who is brave enough to get their hands dirty in the fight?

Let’s define some of the key roles people play in the arena so you know who to take advice from and who to avoid.

The Cheerleader

If the arena is a boxing ring, the cheerleader is the beautiful bikini model walking along the ropes holding up the number for each round. Cheerleaders are on the sidelines cheering us on. It is easy to confuse cheerleaders with someone who should actually be on the mat with us but they should not. Cheerleaders are great RAH-RAH encouragers. However, they don’t know how or are too afraid to get dirty on the mat with us. They do not have experience with our journey and they don’t really understand our opponent or our choices. Blind encouragement can be helpful to keep moving forward but it can be detrimental in making critical decisions.

The Coach

The coach is the one that comes up on the mat between rounds. They bring out the wooden stool, wipe the blood and sweat from our brows, tell us what we did well and give us honest feedback on how we can do better. They give guidance and action steps to keep us going when making difficult decisions. Not everything they say is rainbows and roses. We can trust they are on the mat because they want what is best for us.

The Nose-Bleed Section

If you have ever been to a concert or sporting event and had to sit way way up on top, you understand the nose-bleed section. This is the section so far from the mat, you can not see the faces of the people who are there. These are the very definition of cheap seats. These seats are where your naysayers hide. They are the ones who come out of the dark and throw punches on social media. They hide behind their computer, they may have a fake name and typically they don’t have a profile picture.

“those cold and timid souls who neither knows victory nor defeat.”

Yet, when we are weak, and we haven’t learned to distinguish whose opinions matter, even those cheap seat comments hurt.

Once we understand and identify these people as people whose opinions do not matter to us, we can laugh at their comments. (My little secret – I always leave negative comments on any social media videos/posts. They actually help feed the algorithm)

Expensive Seats

These are the seats just on the other side of the ropes. The people who sit in these seats paid a lot of money to be there. These are the familiar faces in our lives. They are our family and friends, coworkers, bosses, and loved ones. Their voices are powerful and influential.

Because they have “paid” to be in these seats, we think we have to listen to their opinions. However, their experiences and perspective might not be the right match for this particular opponent. We still want them close but we do not have to listen to their opinions in this circumstance.

Identify the opponent

We’ve identified the arena and the players in the decision-making process. One piece we haven’t discussed is the opponent.

The opponent is life’s difficult decisions. Each difficult decision becomes an opponent in the boxing ring. Each opponent is different. How we train for the opponent and who we take with us for the fight will also vary. Those influential people who sit in the expensive seats on the other side of the ropes… they become our alternates to be on the mat with us for different opponents in life.

Examples of different opponents (difficult decisions) you will encounter:

  • Starting a new career
  • Going back to school
  • Quitting a job
  • Getting married
  • Getting divorced
  • Buying a home
  • Deciding which school is best for your child

Putting it all together

Here is how it works:

Understanding who is in the arena

Identify the mat = the journey

Identify the opponent = the difficult decision

Who is on the mat with you = coach’s corner

Who is on the other side of the ropes = expensive seats and nose-bleeds


You and your partner are interested in buying a home.  Since you are not married, there will be a lot of naysayers. Your current living situation is with a roommate who you’ve known for the past 10 years and they barely have two pennies to rub together.

You and your significant other start your home search online. Since you are just “toying with the idea”, you haven’t told your close family and friends yet. Laying in bed, scrolling on Zillow, you find a home that checks most of your boxes. Fortunately, there is an open house this weekend so you decide to pop by.

You fall in love with the house! Or at least the idea of homeownership with your partner. It feels like this idea is becoming a reality. You aren’t sure of the steps so you reach out to a friend who is a real estate agent.

Your Realtor friend is able to provide you with some clear steps and a lender to contact for the mortgage. In your excitement, you call your mom and tell her you are buying a home.


Your mom is upset because you aren’t married. How can you buy a house together if you aren’t married?

Your roommate isn’t happy for you either. Once you buy this home, what will they do? They can’t afford to live on their own.

Who’s in the arena with you?

Identify the mat = Buying a home

Identify the opponent = Buying a home with your partner and leaving your roommate behind.

Who is on the mat with you = Partner, Realtor, Mortgage Broker

Who is on the other side of the ropes = Mom and roommate

WOW! I just threw your mom out of the arena! Ouch. She loves you and only wants the best for you. Why doesn’t she deserve to be in the arena?

Let’s pause and remember – every opponent is different. There will be different people on the mat with you for different scenarios in life. Unfortunately, this isn’t the mat for your mom. What she really wants is for you to have a big fat Greek wedding and 6 grandkids for her to spoil. And as much as you love your mom and she loves you, this isn’t what you want.

If you want to know who is in the nose-bleed section, just post something on social media about buying a home. You will get every opinion in the book.

Identifying who is in the arena early on will save you a ton of confusion and frustration. Every step of the home-buying process will open the door for someone else’s opinion to seem like it matters. If you have already identified who is in the arena with you, then you will know who to listen to each step of the way. The hardest battle is ignoring all of the other commentaries. Fortunately, it becomes easier with practice.


Pay attention to your need to please. You may invite people onto the mat because THEY think they should be there. This is your journey, not theirs.

Pay attention to how you feel. Remember, YOU belong on the mat. YOU are not an imposter. YOU did the hard work to be where you are.

“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.”

The arena is YOUR path. YOU get to choose who is in the arena with you. You will stumble. You will come up short again and again. The worst thing that can happen is

“if you fail, at least you fail while daring greatly!”

Anyone who has ever achieved anything had to overcome obstacles and hardships along their path. These are the LESSONS of the UNSTOPPABLE ones. Unstoppable Lessons shares the skills, techniques, and mindset necessary to face the challenges of our professional and personal lives. If we embrace the lessons and practice them, excuses will no longer have a place in our lives.

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