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What I'm reading #12: The man in the arena

By Sam Instone - March 24, 2022

On 23rd April 1910, a year after leaving office as the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt delivered what would become one of the most widely quoted speeches of his career.

The speech was titled ‘Citizenship in a Republic’ but is now known as ‘The Man in the Arena'.

The reason this 9,000-words speech captured the world’s attention so much...

Was because Roosevelt highlighted those who were trying to make the world a better place.

And, more importantly, their critics:

“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 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."

Nobody is a stranger to criticism

No matter what you do, someone somewhere will have an opinion.

For some of us, this can grind us down.

Even the most mindful of us are at the risk of internalising criticism.

It's at times like these that Roosevelt’s reminder is especially important – ‘the critic does not count'

Ultimately, there's no way around it.

But critics are not going to exist without us first doing something to annoy them...

So why not do so on our own terms?

In his book, Antifragile, Nassim Taleb writes,

“When you take risks, insults by small men, those who don't risk anything, are similar to barks by nonhuman animals; you can't feel insulted by a dog.”

Steve Jobs made a candid speech to graduating students at Stanford University in 2005. In it, he said, 

“Your time is limited...Don't let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice…have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

The arena 

The ‘arena’ is not for everyone.

But if you're the one in there, take pride in it.

The willingness to show up changes everything.

You may fall short or experience failure more than anyone else...

But mistakes should make you braver and better.

Stepping into the arena, is all that matters.

Are you showing up? 

Or criticising those who do?


"The credit belongs to the man who is in the arena..."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Further reading

The Psychology of Money' by Morgan Housel

What I'm reading #3: Understanding setbacks and life transitions

What I'm reading #4: A powerful force shaping your behaviour

What I'm reading #10: Whatever you are, be kind

Retirement planning for affluent expats: The right balance between spending and saving