Today I’m bringing you a chock-full-of-insights Q&A with my friend and colleague Marianne Elliott. Marianne is a writer, human rights advocate, and yoga teacher. Brené Brown called her “One of the best teachers I’ve ever experienced … a beautiful writer and a courageous truth teller.” Marianne writes and teaches on creating, developing and sustaining real change in personal life, work and the world. Marianne is one of the most thoughtful, compassionate, wise women I know.
Trained as a lawyer, Marianne helped develop human rights strategies for the governments of New Zealand and East Timor, was a Policy Advisor for Oxfam, and spent two years in the Gaza Strip before going to Afghanistan, where she served in the United Nations. In Afghanistan, she decided stories were her weapon of choice, and yoga was her medicine. Her next round of 30 Days of Courage, an online guide to bravery in action, starts on August 4th.
Here are her answers to my questions about courage and about playing big.
Tara: Marianne, what’s your definition of courage?
Marianne: Being willing and able to do things that scare us. Simple as that. Simple, but by no means easy. Courage takes practice, and I try to practice courage in some small way every day.
What does “playing big” mean to you? What does it look like in your life?
Playing big is allowing yourself, your work, your ideas and your words to be seen and heard, and to take up the space you need to do the good work you are destined to do in the world.
What are some of the things your inner critic says to you and what do you do/think/not do, etc. so that self-doubt doesn’t get in your way?
My inner critic isn’t very original. It says ‘You are not good/smart/experienced enough. You could fail. You could mess this important thing up. You should probably just stay quiet.’
When I hear that voice, I call on the voice of my inner sweetheart or cheerleader – who says : ‘You’re doing fine, Marianne, it’s natural to be scared, just keep going.’
My inner sweetheart speaks with the voice of my Buddhist teacher, who is the embodiment of kindness.
I also remember something you told me, Tara – that my inner critic is the guardian of my comfort zone. So whenever that critical voice gets loud, it’s a sign that I’m getting close to the outer gate of the territory I already know and near to something new. And that excites me and reminds me to call on that inner cheerleader to help me keep going.
For many women, fears come up when they start playing bigger, or even when they contemplate playing bigger. What fears have come up for you along the way and how do you move past them?
Like many women, I’ve internalized the idea that femininity equals humility, gentleness and grace. So when I began to play big and to amplify my voice, my work and my ideas, I was afraid people would think was too proud, loud or arrogant.
I moved past those fears largely by watching the women I admired - Helen Clark, Horia Mosadiq, Suraya Pakzad, Michelle Obama, Jane Goodall, Eve Ensler, Seane Corn, Natalie Goldberg and many others – all be criticized, at some point, for being too loud, proud, or arrogant.
I realized that being criticized comes with the territory of playing big as a woman, and that rather than playing small to avoid criticism, I could choose to play big anyway and make sure I had good support and self-care in place for when that criticism arrived.
How do you think about risk-taking and failure?
I think there’s nothing really worth having in life that comes without risk. Loving someone is a risk. Every creative endeavor is a risk. All forms of social activism and change work involve risk, and they rarely work out the way we expect them to.
I’ve learned to think of my life as one great experiment. So what I might otherwise have deemed to be a ‘failure’ now becomes a ‘result’ of my latest experiment, and produces new data for me to take on board. This way, there are no ‘failed’ experiments, just unexpected results and the chance to learn.
Soak up more Marianne goodness at http://marianne-elliott.com. And check out the next round of 30 Days of Courage, an online guide to bravery in action, starting on 4 August. Find out more about the course here.