“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

Let’s imagine a stadium, a colossal coliseum of life. In its center, the “Man in the Arena,” as Teddy Roosevelt so eloquently named him. His clothes are marred by dust and sweat and blood. He’s striving, he’s erring, he’s falling short again and again. He’s in the thick of it, living it, doing it.

There’s an echo, though. It ricochets around the arena, off the polished seats where critics sit. “He could’ve done better.” “What a clumsy move.” “I would’ve nailed it.” It’s easy to heckle from the safety of the sidelines, to paint a masterpiece with the brush of intention.

But here’s the twist, the profound truth that Roosevelt gifts us: there is no victory without the battle, no triumph without the tumble. Regret, the gnawing pest of inaction, doesn’t feast on the ‘doers,’ even when they miss the mark. It feasts on the ‘wishers,’ the ‘could’ve-beens,’ who let the opportunity sail past unseized.

The man in the arena knows this. He knows his face may be marred by dust and sweat and blood. He knows he may fail while daring greatly. But the taste of effort, the knowledge of daring, far outweighs the sterile, cold comfort of the critic’s seat. There’s no regret in the arena, only lessons learned and the promise of another shot. There, in the grit and grime of effort, doing always, always outshines intending.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand and Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2023 Stephen Boudreau.