As someone who appreciates the outdoors, Theodore Roosevelt is a bit of an icon of mine. He was a dedicated conservationist, and during his presidency he set aside around 200 million acres for national forests, reserves and wildlife refuges, paving the way for the National Park Service. He also gave one of the most iconic and inspiring speeches in 1910 which is known as the “Man in the Arena” speech. The most notable section states:
“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's 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”.
Doesn’t that give you chills? I have read and listened to this speech many times but still get them. Let’s break it down a bit.
One of the most important parts of this speech is the idea of the ARENA. What does this mean to you? It's different to everyone. Being in the arena could mean fighting for a raise at work, starting a new sport or returning after an injury when you’re older and everyone else if half your age (wait that may only be me…) It could also mean saying NO to adding more to your already full plate, or it could be something as simple as being kind and compassionate to yourself when you're struggling, seen recently, as Lane Johnson, the Philadelphia Eagles right tackle, opened up about his battle with depression and anxiety rather than suffering in silence which took an inordinate amount of courage.
The best description of the arena that I’ve found is from the famed storyteller vulnerability researcher Brene’ Brown who states “it’s where the only thing that is guaranteed, is that you will get your ass kicked”. Its anywhere you need to roll up your sleeves, getting ready to get dirty knowing you might not succeed the first, second or even the third time. It is about showing up in your own life and high fiving yourself every time you get up!
Next let’s look at the Critic. Who is the critic? I believe most often people view the critic as someone or something external. Someone who is on the outside looking in and criticizing when someone fails, or struggles. Internalizing what an external critic says can be so damaging. One of the most important choices we can make is the choice not to listen. In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene’ Brown says “if you're not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback”. I couldn’t have said it better myself. The tricky part about it is the external critic is easier to tune out. It's not easy, it's just easier.
The critic can also be in your own head. We can often be our own worst enemies, our greatest critics by using self-deprecating thoughts that can make us feel but we aren't worthy. That internal critic is a sneaky SOB. It’s much harder to recognize when that critic is affecting how we view ourselves. However, if we set an intention to begin to pay attention to the negative messages we're telling ourselves, we can shut that critic down too. With the beauty of neuroplasticity, we can rewire our brains to actually say nice things, imagine that.
So, the challenge is, the next time we hear a critic, let's consider the source. If they don't have skin in the game, we don't need to listen to them. If the critic is internal and the criticism is coming from ourselves, maybe we can make a choice to shut that down. Make a choice let go of our judgment and instead be proud of the dust and sweat and blood. Those things, those challenges introduce you to yourself every day. Without the arena, true growth does not happen. Make the choice to be uncomfortable, roll up your sleeves and get after it.
I encourage you to check out the speech, Lane Johnsons interview and Brene’ Brown’s Ted Talk. Links below:
Theodore Roosevelt Speech
Lane Johnson interview
Written by Pamela Chapman, LCSW
Pamela (Pam) Chapman, LCSW is a Denver based psychotherapist with a private practice named Embrace the Suck Therapy, LLC. Pam specializes in helping adults who struggle with depression and anxiety, with a particular focus on trauma and PTSD. Pam's favorite clients are those who consider “feelings” the other F word, and who would rather have a root canal than open up about what’s bothering them but know they need to do it anyway. She believes in being uncomfortable by choice and making the decision to face what's happening head on. She uses an eclectic therapeutic style with a lot of humor and a pragmatic reality-based approach to help people dispel the myths about seeking mental health services and begin to feel better.