Happy Leap Day, everyone! I’m taking liberties with the word leap today, to talk about a different kind of leap: taking a personal risk.
I was walking around Burke Lake yesterday morning with a good friend and we spoke of how difficult it can be to strive for something we’re not sure we can attain. A lifelong dream may whisper in our soul, but we are reluctant to listen. Ironically, the more we care about it, the more we struggle with openly taking steps to make it happen. What if we fail? What if we look foolish? What if others criticize us? We already know our chances of succeeding are remote. We worry that others will think we have delusions of grandeur…or just delusions.
On our walk, my friend quoted from memory something Theodore Roosevelt had said, a passage that has come to be known as “The Man in the Arena.” It has stuck with me, so I decided to dig into the context of it a bit further and share it with you today. But first, Roosevelt’s inspiring words:
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.
This was part of a 1910 speech entitled “Citizenship in a Republic,” given at the Sorbonne to an audience of more than 2,000 – including a number of foreign dignitaries. Roosevelt had completed his second term as president 15 months before, and was touring and giving speeches in Europe and Africa (after a year of hunting, that is – we’re talking Teddy Roosevelt, after all).
The French loved it. According to Erin McCarthy, in this Mental Floss article:
“Citizenship in a Republic” ran in the Journal des Debats as a Sunday supplement, got sent to the teachers of France by Le Temps, was printed by Librairie Hachette on Japanese vellum, was turned into a pocket book that sold 5000 copies in five days, and was translated across Europe.
Since then, it has become widely used as a inspirational tool (and also in a car commercial, of all things). Check out this Wikipedia entry for more about the contemporary impact.
Want to read the entire speech? Click here.
Have you taken a leap? Are you contemplating one? I would love to hear from you.
Until next time,
15 thoughts on “Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena”
I am definitely taking a leap soon, with a new series, a whole new protagonist, and I’m writing it in first person, which I’ve never done before. It’s bringing out all the niggling little doubts all over again. Maybe no one will read these books? Maybe no one will care about the topics I think are important enough to bring up in them?
But I’m doing it! Thanks for the inspiration, Kathy!!
Good for you, for persisting despite the self-doubt! It’s tough, though, isn’t it? And exciting at the same time. 😉 Good luck!
Mine is more of a short hop than a leap, but I am leaving the ground, at least. 🙂 I’ve returned to something I abandoned more than 10 years ago, figuring no one would want to read it. I still have those dark nights of the soul, but I keep on writing.
That’s awesome, Elizabeth! Best of luck in revisiting your project. 🙂
I took a huge leap in July of last year when I moved from California to Mississippi and bought an Inn. I never once allowed myself to think about what might happen IF we weren’t successful. I only thought about the rewards. So far, that’s the only thing I’ve needed. It was a huge leap, but so worth it.
Wasn’t Mr. Roosevelt an interesting fellow? And well spoken.
As always, a great post.
w/a Jansen Schmidt
I was thinking of your particular leap when I was writing this post, Patricia! I think it is amazing, and I’m so happy that it has been worth it. Thanks so much for visiting!
I think taking leaps is an important part of growing, Kathy. They may be scary, but they can really be magnificent, too.
Absolutely, Margot! So nice to see you here. 🙂
Great quote. I was familiar with it, but knew nothing of the context. Both of the links you have are good too. The Citizenship in a Republic Wiki does not mention something that I think is noteworthy (and which I only just now discovered reading the Wiki list of multilingual presidents): He was fluent in french, so it can be presumed that he delivered the speech in french (don’t spread that around too much .. might ruin it for some). TR is a very interesting character, though he definitely had a dark side. I recently finished listening to The War Lovers by Evan Thomas about TR, Lodge and WR Hearst. Quite a story. Thanks for a great blog.
So glad you could share that interesting background, Bill! I would respectfully disagree with the idea that Roosevelt gave it in French. None of the primary sources I’ve seen indicates that the text was translated. He spoke at a great many universities in Europe and Africa, and the educated audiences would be conversant in English.
Here’s an excerpt to Roosevelt’s preface to his collection of speeches, African and European Addresses (available through Project Gutenberg; I’ll post the link below): My original intention had been to return to the United States direct from Africa, by the same route I took when going out. I altered this intention because of receiving from the Chancellor of Oxford University, Lord Curzon, an invitation to deliver the Romanes Lecture at Oxford. The Romanes Foundation had always greatly interested me, and I had been much struck by the general character of the annual addresses, so that I was glad to accept. Immediately afterwards, I received and accepted invitations to speak at the Sorbonne in Paris, and at the University of Berlin. In Berlin and at Oxford, my addresses were of a scholastic character, designed especially for the learned bodies which I was addressing, and for men who shared their interests in scientific and historical matters. In Paris, after consultation with the French Ambassador, M. Jusserand, through whom the invitation was tendered, I decided to speak more generally, as the citizen of one republic addressing the citizens of another republic.
It doesn’t prove that he spoke in English or French for that particular speech, but I thought it makes an interesting addition to the discussion, and does show the type of audiences he was addressing. Now that I know he was fluent in French, I can imagine him listening to questions and answering in French after the speech. If you find out anything definitive, let us know! I’m really curious now.
By the way, I just now found the above source – after I read your comment I went looking to see if I could find out about what language Roosevelt used. Thanks for a thought-provoking comment!
Interesting. Okay, English it probably is then. I like it better that way; Maybe I am the “some” I mention above for whom French would “ruin it.” Still fun to Picture TR answering questions in French. Love him or hate him, The Lion is without a doubt the most intellectually gifted president in our history.
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who strives valiantly…because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds…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…”
Those are eloquent, well spoken, powerful words. Truly, everything we do takes effort. And it seems the older we get, the more things in our life become such a leap. But we have to try. We have to continue to make the effort. We have to “dare greatly”.
Excellent post Kathy! 🙂
Those ARE powerful words, Karen! And you are right about the “leaping” – we must continue on! So glad you could stop by. 🙂
I just bought a house. I consider that a pretty big (expensive) leap in my life
Wow, that is quite a leap. Best of luck in your new adventure!
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