One of the single greatest speeches from any president throughout history. Was spoken by none other than Teddy Roosevelt. It was an inspiring speech concerning the risk, valor, and nobility not in the ones sitting on the sidelines, but the ones in the trenches risking it all and daring to be great.
When I think of modern life, I see this piece of literary greatness and how it reflects social media and the armchair warriors.
To somehow hold weight that your opinion blasted from the couches and bleachers alike is worth anything at all let alone important compared to those who risk their all in the tribulations of their field or craft is laughable. Yet it somehow holds true in modern society. We have begun to chastise or bring down those who seek to be better, regardless of the outcome. Yet it is those who take on this noble task, that deserve nothing but praise and admiration.
The sheer courage alone to put yourself in the line of fire so to metaphorically speak is admirable. Whether you are at the pinnacle of the game or coming from the bottom. No one attempting excellence with grace and humility deserves mockery from those who seek to be nothing more than a drunkard or brute from the depths of the washed-up hills.
Nothing made this more obvious to me than from this point of my bodybuilding career and business expansion. Literally witnessing and participating in a sport where you will physically and mentally start at the very bottom 99% of the time is humbling for the athlete. Yet it is also a chance for criticism and opinion from those who don’t dare to even attempt such a challenge.
To be amongst some of the physically best physiques in an entire country. To have watched men across ages, races, cultures, and styles put forth their best to win and attempt success in a narrow field of opportunity is one of the greatest things you can be a part of. Among the few who are able to sustain the grueling tasks required of you daily and weekly in order to reach the outcome regardless of the result. There is very few relationships or friendships built like it. Only you yourselves know what you went through, what you’ve experienced, and the depths of hell your body went to in order to be amongst this cohort. You all know only one can win, yet we all know only those of us willing to make these sacrifices can even contend for the win. There is a power in that brotherhood you simply can't understand without being amongst it.
The saddest part?
The saddest part of all, however, is not the loss or the fact you didn’t come away with a medal; It’s that those who barely find the mental strength to sustain a 9-5 job are the first or the loudest opinions to speak. They will criticise, debate, break down, harass, mock, ridicule or chastise those who weren’t perfect or winners.
They don’t own the right to those opinions though, and we shouldn’t place power in their words. It is wrong for those who sacrifice nothing, who bare no responsibility to the craft of discipline to make light of the effort put forth by even the lowest placing. Those who placed even last, are still amongst the greats who dared to try.
It’s easy to sit by from the comfort of bed while a doer awakes early to start his cardio, to rest on the couch while the doer is engaged in grueling training sessions or business strategy yet speak so fluently on how they should have been better or performed better is downright insulting.
Though as a stoic, I am the first to place emphasis on only what you can control, I feel it in my literary duty to point out the obvious fact. While you sit in your chair, willing to sacrifice nothing for an opportunity at greatness; while you sit comfortably in the mundane of nothing, you will never be more than that. From nothing will be nothing and from comfort is the only safety.
To those amongst myself who push forward into the arena knowing their fate is never promised, their outcome is never certain, who risk all they know and believe in for a tomorrow that is never guaranteed. You are, no we are; the ones deserving of the credit. No, I don’t encourage participation trophies or half-ass rewards, but the acknowledgment of your action is what deserves recognition and credit.
To go through life with ideas never actioned
Too many go through life barely touching the ideas mapped out in their heads. Too few are willing to try and create the dreams they see in their minds at night laying under their blankets. When you give yourself to a worthy endeavor, with the purpose of pure progress and the expectation of doing better than the day before, you deserve the rightful credit. Not arrogance or ego, not an entitlement to more.
Just the acknowledgment that it is you in the trenches, risking all, sacrificing the pleasure of now, for the potential of what could be. Delayed gratification is embraced by the greatest amongst us, and in order to be great you must delay the immediate pleasures.
Everyone will hold an opinion in life. Bodybuilding is a prime example of this. People will whisper in the crowd, mock or ridicule from a place of insecurity or self-loathing not from constructive or positive places. You will hear feedback from everyone outside your circle, you will receive passing comments good or bad about where you could have performed better.
Just remember this; in life, it is easiest to ridicule from the audience. Those who aren’t willing to put themselves at risk of failure will always feel safest to criticise. To be amongst the ones willing to fail, chase success, and achieve something outside of the norm. If you can sustain that, If you can handle any failures and or setbacks and continue forward. Then you are already amongst a different class of person. Those opinions from the audience hold no validity and you require no validation from them. Knowing you tried, knowing you gave everything you had and risked it all to even contend with victory, is something few will ever be able to share with you. Those are doers, those are the crazy ones. Those are the ones in the arena. We are those ones in the arena.
There is no more a gracious feat
There is nothing more gracious and rewarding to know you gave everything, sacrificed, and happily stood there regardless of the outcome that this is the best you could possibly do. No matter the field or craft, at the point of completion; time almost stands still for us. When all that you could control was taken care of when all stones available were turned; you cannot possibly understand that moment from the crowds. Only those of us amongst it can truly comprehend what that is like.
Win or lose, you have already won. For the winner, his work was rewarded, and the trees bared fruits, for the loser, it is a chance to own up and grow. To reflect and review. This is one of the greatest moments in one's life of whom strives to succeed. The loss will teach you more than the win ever will.
To the crowd who can't understand this, who never risk that loss in the first place, they may see it as a failure. They will never understand the richness of failing though or the emotion of that risk. All they know is the comfort offered by the seats of a grandstand. From where they are safe and secure to hurl thoughts and opinions.
When the time comes...
When the time comes and your end approaches, just know, you will look back and rejoice in the fact it was you in that arena, risking life and limb to be the absolute best.
You will go into that dark goodnight, knowing nothing more could have been done towards your journey, ridicule or not. It was you who at worst, put yourself forward toward a greater outcome.
It is sad to think in all that hurling of opinion and criticism, those sad individuals will never comprehend life from within that arena. In all their voicing of opinion, they never stopped to think that they never stood amongst the very few who try. That in itself, for them, will always be their punishment.
So take the risks. Dare to be greater than yourself. Be courageous in the face of mediocrity and scrutiny. Step into the arena knowing that regardless of what happens, you stand amongst only a few who are crazy enough, if not great enough to enter.
Those will always be your kin, and all the opinions and criticisms in the world will never take from the fact that at least you tried. You went out giving all you had towards a single outcome. Wherever that falls, it is still more than can be said for the majority outside that arena.
"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."
- Ben Mayfield-Smith