Today I went to the Grace Evangelical Church here in Wellewatte, a southern suburb of Colombo, Sri Lanka, and ran across a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that was printed in the bulletin.
“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled 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 with dust and sweat and blood…and who…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.”
Right now I am meandering through a colossal audio series of 90 lectures on American history, and I am eager to get to Roosevelt. The man was uber egotistical, great, and terrible, but besides the elitist desire exhibited in this quote to be set apart from lesser, more timid souls, I think he is right on the money. I had a hard time paying attention to the sermon cause I was thinking about Teddy and failure.
More and more, I have come to feel comfort in failure because it is a sign that I am in the game. Of course, we should never love failing, but we can take pride in it. There is great dignity in having your business fail, a lover leave you, or receiving rejections from potential employers or schools. All one can ever do is give it their best shot, and God and luck do the rest. Instead, honor dies when our energy wans—when we remove ourselves from the “arena” of judgement so that we can pretend ourselves to be immeasurable.
Mostly unrelated to that: I find it interesting that so many great American politicians were never presidents, and were often more powerful figures than their contemporary presidents, and yet considered themselves to be failures because they did not become presidents: Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Stephen A. Douglass…ok, I’m only to the 1860s. I was trying to think of great politicians in modern times who did not become presidents, and I could not, at least not anyone of the stature of these men. Any ideas?