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Man in the Arena

One of the members of my cigar club is an expert on everything. No matter the topic, he knows everything and is happy to tell you that you are wrong. He will tell you how wrong you are in your own area of expertise, even if it’s what you’ve done all day, every day, for years. You are wrong; he is right. A casual observer might think he is very smart and well experienced. But in reality, he has never done most of the things he talks “expertly” about. He has never been in the “arena”. 

This person came to mind recently, after I read an excerpt from a speech President Theodore Roosevelt gave in Paris in 1910 titled, “Citizenship In A Republic”. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth checking out. His words are timeless, powerful, and true. In a nutshell, he notes that the person that matters is the person that is in the thick of it. It’s the person that takes the chance, works hard and puts himself out there, regardless of the result. It’s not the critic on the sidelines commenting without added value, effort or results and disrupting progress. 

When Sanjay and I started our business in 2002 (20 years ago…where did the time go?!), it was because we wanted the freedom to control our own paths and saw an opportunity to do so. We jumped into the arena, took a chance, invested all our savings, and boot-strapped our way to where we are today. It wasn’t easy, but we reminded ourselves that if we failed, at least we tried. We had some successes and setbacks along the way, and each time we dug in, learned from our mistakes and set to work again. Over the years, many have tried to tell us how we should run our business. Most often, these are people who have never run a business. They have no idea what it’s like to be responsible for making sure payroll is funded and people are paid and taken care of, which is the most stressful thing about running a company. Please don’t misunderstand me, I value and consider the advice and constructive criticism from colleagues and friends with some experience on whatever the topic is at hand. The criticism without expertise troubles me, though. It would be like me criticizing parents about how they raise their kids. I love kids, but I have not personally experienced the complexity of parenthood. I am not the one who has to spend sleepless nights when they are sick, punish them when they misbehave, or guide them through life as a parent would. I have not walked in their shoes; I am not in their arena.  

So back to my fellow cigar club member, standing on the sidelines offering advice or criticism may seem helpful and may even feel like a safe place, but it is not. The sideline critic slows progress, discourages rather than encourages success, and in doing so, loses respect from others. The sideline critic will eventually find themselves standing alone in the crowd. President Roosevelt’s words ring true no matter what the circumstances. Wouldn’t you rather be the one out there striving to accomplish your goals and experiencing new things even if you do come up short? Wouldn’t you rather try, fail, try again, and eventually succeed while gaining knowledge and experience in the process? The experience that you can then use to offer constructive advice to the next generation as they roll up their sleeves? I know I would! 

What will you strive for this weekend? I’d love to hear from you!  

“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, and 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 the 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 know neither victory nor defeat.” – President Theodore Roosevelt 

Have a great weekend.