Teddy Roosevelt inspired a generation. But there is something he said that inspires us all to push harder.
“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
People often remember part of this quote and believe the emphasis is in the first sentence. I would argue the point of the quote is everything except the first sentence. This tends to be used as a defense against our failures, a response when we face a setback or an attack at our critics. Fact is, critics exist and always will. As we spend too much time worried about detractors, we empower and validate the criticism, which as Roosevelt says, doesn’t count.
Not being the “cold and timid soul” Roosevelt describes, does not make you, by default, the man in the arena. This isn’t either or, there is a range of possibility in between. Which is what I love most about this quote. It is a challenge. Can you strive to always be the person Roosevelt describes in his speech? The person in the middle of the work, falling down, but getting back up and failing only because you are daring greatly.
When I think about career aspirations, goals on the list still to achieve, and impact I want to have on people and organizations, this quote describes succinctly three ways I hope people would describe me.
- Strive to do the deeds
As one of my good friends reminds me regularly, “winners want the ball”. We all work in environments where there is more that can be done than there is time in the day. The challenges don’t stop and the work is always there. I always want to be the one trying to do more than my fair share. I don’t want to be the one passing the buck, or the one saying, “that’s not my job”. I strive to do the work, whatever is needed, because it is in the best interest of our team, this organization and most importantly, the people we serve.
Growing up, I played a lot of basketball, and can’t count the number of times my dad told me, “There is always room on the floor for someone who can shoot.” The point holds true in work. A lot of people know the logistics of how, in my case, fundraising, works. A lot of people are great at building relationships and talking about an organization, the mission and the impact we have on changing lives. That is the easy part, asking people to give, to support this mission and producing revenue is what matters. There is always room on the team for someone who produces. The “doer of deeds” as Roosevelt put it.
- Knows great enthusiasm
The often-cited Henry Ford quote, “nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm” rings true. Particularly in the nonprofit sector, you are often dealing with tough, very personal situations and significant community issues. It can’t always be handled with optimism and positivity…but that doesn’t alone define enthusiasm. Energy, passion, commitment mean just as much. I don’t want people to question commitment, or energy to our mission and to the work. Achieving great things requires daring greatly and great devotion, as Roosevelt says. If people remember that about you, you likely made a difference.
- Spends himself in a worthy cause
I knew early in my career, I never wanted to be in a role or a business I didn’t believe in. It is a critical factor in choosing the line of work I did. I want to be all in with whatever cause the organization I work for is addressing. In my last three roles I have learned as much as I could about the issues surrounding and impacting the people those organizations work with. It has been a diverse set of topics; at-risk youth, disaster preparedness/relief and health care for under-served populations. I take pride in learning as much as I can, quickly, about these issues. Throwing myself into them with great interest and passion, as Roosevelt describes, always trying to be a man “spending himself…”
What I love most about this part of his speech, is that it isn’t an attack on “haters” it is a challenge to competitors; a challenge to all of us, to accept individual responsibility, to set high standards and to act with courage.
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Photo: Flickr/Stefano Roverato