Theodore Roosevelt’s speech excerpt labeled ‘The Man in the Arena’ is a piece of writing that never fails to conjure a specific feeling in me. A simultaneous feeling of comradery for those who try and contempt towards my former self.
I used to watch people try important things from the sidelines.
I’d have something to say about them too; actors, creators, entrepreneurs, film directors and anyone else I had no business scrutinising. I’d critique, I’d suggest and I’d congratulate from the periphery. I was a spectator, a non-participant. Until I took a step into the arena.
I put my work up for public consideration both in writing and video format for the online world to see and suddenly, I felt powerless.
You could dislike my work, ignore it, tell me how the music could’ve synced with the footage better or how I could’ve made the thumbnail a little punchier. And you’d be well entitled to those views.
I fought my own insecurities and mental hurdles to present something, and in return, I could only receive praise or defend my work, never give it back on the offense, because the relationship between those taking action and those observing it is always asymmetrical.
The person stepping into the arena assumes risk the moment they walk in. Even still, what happens is the arena is just one component of the battle. The hundreds or thousands of spectators will have something to say from the comfort of their seats, firing arrows that pierce the spirit both consecutively and in volleys.
The man in the arena knows that he has parted with comfort. He steps in nonetheless. It’s not unfair on him either, because fairness implies it could have gone any other way; those in the arena could never go back to being spectators.
There’s a chasm between the two. Something irreversibly changes the moment you step up, and step in. You acknowledge the onlookers, appreciate their role, but you’ll never exist amongst them again. Your place is with the doers, the ones who fall and get up, try again, the ones who understand your sacrifice and respect you even when up against you, because they know a fate worse than defeat, worse than humiliation and worse than harm: not having the courage to try.
Submitting myself to the arena made me feel powerless, but now I see it as it truly is: a superpower, one that helped me transcend mere observership and begin taking action.
We all have our own arenas, when will you stop spectating and step in?
“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.”
-Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic”.