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Life Inside the Arena

This post originally appeared in our Startup Growth Newsletter.

Last week Joe Raczka and I attended the Catholic Charities New Hampshire annual retreat. During this time I was introduced to the work of an academic named Brené Brown.

While you may have heard of her, she was new to me. As an academic she lived a quiet, private life — until she did a TED Talk on vulnerability that went viral. Suddenly she was everywhere:  CNN, NPR, etc. With the spotlight came the scrutiny. Though her inner circle told her not to read the comments, she couldn’t help herself. She became depressed over the personal attacks. When she was at her lowest, she randomly came across this excerpt from a famous speech by President Theodore Roosevelt:

“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 speech liberated Brené Brown, as it should all of us. From it she learned two lessons that are applicable to all of us:

  1. If you want to attempt great things, then the only certainty and guarantee is that you are going to get attacked. So don’t steer away from criticism, instead embrace it as part of the job.
  2. Unless someone is marred by sweat, dust and blood and is in the arena themselves, don’t worry about their criticism. If someone is taking shots from the cheap seats, they aren’t worth your time. Only respect the opinions of people who have enough courage to enter the arena.

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