“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.”

(from “The Man in the Arena” by President Theodore Roosevelt, 1910).

Oh, Mr. Roosevelt, these words you spoke at the Sorbonne more than a century ago, they’re ringing true today and I’m nodding my head more than a little because I know that it’s not the critic who counts and I know too that there’s a whole lot of striving when you’re spending yourself in a worthy cause, be it raising children, raising organic vegetables, or raising your hand to protest injustice.

I read Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech this morning.

It was not the first, or third, or even the tenth time I’ve read this. I can’t remember when I first discovered it, but have found inspiration and encouragement in it for a lot of years. I find in it so much truth, and as with so many things that ring true, returning to it re-inspires me. But I’ll be honest here. Mostly, I focus on the-critic-not-counting part, or the striving-enthusiasm-devotion parts. These feel good. And who doesn’t want to think that they dare greatly?

Yep, that’s me. Daring greatly with enthusiasm and devotion to a worthy cause. Totally ignoring those critics.

Except that’s not what jumped off the page today.

Today, I saw with a little more clarity and yeah, a little dismay, that daring greatly includes erring, coming up short, stumbling, failing.

And, figuratively speaking (at least I hope) dust and sweat and blood all over your face.

Which, figuratively speaking, could very well come from falling flat on your face.

This strikes me as incredibly depressing.

And I was really not happy to find this nugget of truth in a speech that has, hitherto, never failed to inspire. This speech was supposed to lift me up, not bring me down.

But it is the truth.

If you dare, you will make mistakes. You will fail, you may flail, and there is a real chance that you will fall flat on your face. Figuratively speaking.

All while knowing that you are, indeed, daring greatly to step into the arena. Which just may be inspiring after all. Because life is short, and you only get one.

So how do you really want to live it?

As a critic of those who do dare greatly?

As someone who strives valiantly?

As an enthusiastic dreamer of dreams who stumbles but steps out anyway, or as the person in the stands pointing out the stumbles?

So many motivational speakers ask the question, hoping to inspire: “what would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

I think this is the wrong question. I think the better question is this: “what would you do if you knew you could fail?

Because ultimately, it’s not about the gold medal at the end of the race.

It’s never about the prize.

It’s about the race itself. It’s about the falling and the getting back up. It’s about showing up for one more day and giving it one more try.

It’s about daring to show up in the world as who you are, imperfect but authentic.

It’s about spending yourself in a worthy cause, your worthy cause, whatever that may be for you.

It’s about knowing that in the end, in the triumph or the failure, you did indeed dare greatly.



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