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I Live My Entire Life Based on 1 Quote and the Lesson it Teaches

The quote embodies action -- and specifically, brave action.

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Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash
Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

“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.”

There’s a good chance you’ve already run across this quote from a 1910 speech by President Theodore Roosevelt. 

Depending on your age, you might have been exposed to it when Richard Nixon recited it during his inauguration, or when pop singer Miley Cyrus tattooed its final words on her left arm. Or perhaps you heard about it through famed author and social scientist Brené Brown, who titled one of her books, Daring Greatly, after that segment of the quote.

Personally, it’s something I’ve carried in my mind for as long as I can remember. I love it not because of how well it’s worded, or how it embodies various ideals of democracy and virtue. No, I love it but because along with those things, it emphasizes action – brave action

I also love it because it applies to everyone. Some may be more prone to idle criticism and inaction than others, but in every person’s life you can find at least one example of time being wasted on pointless critiques when something could be done instead. Something can always be done about it.

“Slacktivism” puts down roots, if you let it.

This pointing out of how “the doer of deeds could have done them better” happens all too often in our current, supercharged political climate. Everyone is seemingly wrong, and everyone else seemingly knows why.

With social media to bolster it, the widespread social critiquing has become so commonplace that it has earned a new name for itself: slacktivism (or “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment”).

The thing is, there’s a whole world of “slacktivity” that isn’t limited to political contexts. Sports fans know it by the name “armchair quarterbacking,” in which one confidently explains how a game could have gone differently from the comfort of their Lazy-boy recliner. 

The fact is, no matter how much we think we could do something better, and no matter how much control we perceive to have when it comes to life … we’re often wrong.

Businesses fail. Governments fail. Relationships fail. People fail. 

By no means would I ever suggest that analyzing failure in order to learn from it is a wasted use of time. However, “the man in the arena” can serve to remind us that the true gain is in action. Trying by taking action is the same as being alive.

If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, for example, critiquing every failed business in history (were that possible) wouldn’t get you any closer to success. In order to achieve your goal, you have to do one thing: start a business of your own.

Whether it’s improving at a skill, getting involved in a new relationship, or changing the world, the same concept applies. Rather than focusing on what hasn’t worked in the past — for you or anyone else — focus on what you can do right this very minute.

Even if your analyses and criticisms of others are one hundred percent accurate, that’s not where you’ll find gratification. Instead, become the man in the arena. In the sweat and dirt and tears, that’s where you’ll get your fulfillment. In the action. This is the place where you must believe in yourself. You may be ordinary – but taking action on your worthy goal will change the world and make you extraordinary.

Trying my best to embrace this philosophy hasn’t stopped me from making mistakes in life. But for the most part, it’s kept me from dwelling on them, which has helped me to leverage them into even bigger successes than I’d planned. I hope it can help you, too.

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