Get In The Arena: From The Pitch, Looking Up

What’s your favourite quote?

Every time I get asked this, I stress out a bit.

“That one from Teddy Roosevelt,” I usually chuckle, shrugging. “You know, the Brené Brown one.”

Sometimes we laugh together at how “basic” it all seems. Sometimes I’m told it’s too long, and asked how to shorten it. Sometimes I’m asked to quote it. Other times, I just pick another one.

When I do, it’s often one that’s similar to Teddy’s, just not as long and… well, “excessive”.

“How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.”

-Florence Nightingale

Why do we have favourite quotes?

What makes someone else’s words, grouped together by punctuation, more special to us than others? What exactly makes them resonate with us? Why do we remember?

Why do we hang “live, laugh, love” on our wall? Why do we tattoo “it’s a beautiful life” on our bodies?

Why these words?

To me, it’s not so much the words. It’s the picture that it creates, the message it conveys.

My favourite quotes all paint vivid pictures, usually about fighting. To me, they look like hope and sound like freedom.

(That sounded so very, very American, but I’m serious.)

But really, why these words? Because they assure us that someone else has been there, we aren’t alone, and that the story doesn’t end there.

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In case you’re unfamiliar with the Teddy Roosevelt quote I keep referencing, often called “The Man In The Arena”, I’ve shared it below.

For me, the very first time I heard the quote, I felt moved in a way that’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual all at once.

You see, I’ve stood in the middle of arenas, in stadiums, on pitches big and small.

I’ve been on fields with only one set of bleachers on one side, and in stadiums with nosebleeds.

And with that always came a set of emotions, usually stress, fear, awe, amazement, speechlessness, excitement, passion, and, again, tension.

I’ve wondered what the people in the stands thought. I wondered if they were pleased, impressed. I’ve experienced their criticism and their joy. I’ve felt their rage and their pure ecstasy too.

Although being in stadiums and on podiums and getting attention like that always comes with positives and negatives, an audience that claps and one that trolls, feedback of critique and of encouragement, my perfectionism tended to let me dwell on all the negatives.

I thought about it. I took it with me onto the pitch.

I gave it weight, leverage, and I let it cut me down.

I. Let. It.

And, at the end of the day, I let it hurt me enough to fear the spotlight (and my own self) eventually.

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Ever notice how, in a bar, the ones yelling at the TV and the referee the loudest don’t seem to have any experience in the sport or competition besides, well, yelling at the TV or the coach?

What I learned from sport and psychology, and it’s why this quote moves me, is that people are loud. The people who are the loudest are not usually the people who clap for you, but the people who berate but have never done and will not do it themselves.

“Do not think you can be brave with your life and your work and never disappoint anyone. It doesn't work that way."

-Oprah Winfrey

“Go here!” “Fix this!” “That was a terrible shot!” “How could you make that error?! You lost the game for us.”

I’ve been in sport for a long time, and I’ve never heard a teammate say that. They may think it, but I personally have never heard it expressed.

Because they know how hard it is.

They, too, have stood in the stadium and looked up, feeling the weight of expectation and the heaviness of stress, and still tried to give their best.

They, too, were out there in the middle of the arena, getting their asses beat alongside you, and getting up again for more.

For me, sport is one of the most amazing and exciting things in the world. That’s why this quote, this analogy, is so very real and meaningful to me. I’ve been celebrated in and beaten down onto the floor of arenas.

I still make it a habit to get in actual stadiums too.

I still make it a habit to get in actual stadiums too.

I don’t look up from the pitch with a jersey on my back anymore - as a member of support staff on the sidelines and in the background, I don’t have deliver on expectations in the way my players do.

But I get into arenas with my work. I look up at critical faces and expectations, acknowledge them, and still try to deliver my best performance.

Every when it’s uncomfortable. Even when it’s embarrassing. Even though it’s vulnerable.

Even though I’m not perfect, and my work never will be either.

I just give it my best.

And, every time I do, I name my critics beforehand. I pick out a place for them, whether it’s in a stadium, or in the corner of a weight room, or in a row of seats in a seminar. I mentally pick out a seat for my parents, a seat for the inevitable trolls/loudmouths, a seat for my mentors and teachers, a seat for my teammates/athletes/fellow coaches.

Most importantly for me, though, is that I pick out a seat for myself.

When I learned to invite my critics into my arenas, to reserve them a seat and to acknowledge them, I took away their power.

They don’t surprise me anymore. I know that, no matter what I do, there will always be something or someone. Somehow, it could have been better. I will never be perfect. My work doesn’t have to be.

So, I tip my hat to the critics in those seats, and, instead, I listen to and learn from the people who are out there struggling and suffering and striving with me.

At the end of the day, being in arenas in life and work and sport have given me the experiences of a lifetime; the very highest mountain peaks where I could touch the clouds and the very, very lowest valleys that felt like fire and sulfur itself.

And, I’m not going to lie - I’m in one of those valleys right now. I’m not sure what I’m doing or where I’m headed at the moment, or when it’s going to turn around.

But I’ve got my head down working, my chest up and open to the world, and my work out in the arena, where it’s lauded and clapped for and picked apart and trolled every day.

It’s cool, honestly. I’m learning how to clap for myself.

And I’m learning from people who are doing it with me and who have done it before. Those are the only people I want to listen to, respect, and hang out with these days. We’re in this journey together.

As Brené Brown says…

"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, 1910