Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena

   

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.

Image via ell.stackexchange.com (public domain)
Image via ell.stackexchange.com (public domain)

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:

Teddy Roosevelt at family home, 1910. Image via wikimedia commons.
Teddy Roosevelt at family home, 1910. Image via wikimedia commons.

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.

Image via truthinsideofyou.org (public domain)
Image via truthinsideofyou.org (public domain)

Until next time,

Kathy

 

4 people like this post.

15 thoughts on “Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena”

  1. Kassandra LambKassandra Lamb

    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!!

  2. Elizabeth Anne MitchellElizabeth Anne Mitchell

    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.

  3. PatriciaPatricia

    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.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  4. Margot KinbergMargot Kinberg

    I think taking leaps is an important part of growing, Kathy. They may be scary, but they can really be magnificent, too.

  5. Bill BlissBill Bliss

    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.

  6. Karen McFarlandKaren McFarland

    “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! 🙂

  7. HeatherHeather

    I just bought a house. I consider that a pretty big (expensive) leap in my life

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