“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 best knows in 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
Going into this book, I envisioned a stirring call to action like the above quotation which inspired the title. I was a bit skeptical, too. Books like that tend to get me in the go getter mindset right after reading them, but the mood rarely lasts long enough to be useful.
The good news was that I was wrong on both counts. This book came across as a warm hug. At it’s heart, this book teaches us that we are all worthy and have the potential of daring greatly.
The book digs in and shows us why we might not have thought we were worthy of being that man in the arena. We live in a culture of scarcity as the author describes it. We never have enough. We are never good enough. We are always pushed to do more, to have more without being allowed to appreciate the value of what we currently have. We are crippled by perfectionism, afraid to make mistakes.
Society often punishes us with shame rather than guilt. The difference between these is the difference between thinking we are a bad person rather than we did a bad thing. There is a cute story of her young daughter correcting her teacher for calling her a mess after a craft project. He daughter tells her that she might have made a mess but she is not a mess.
I found those words powerful. As the author points out, it gives a person room to change. If I am a mess, I am hopeless; but if I have MADE a mess, there is hope. I just need some soap.
Opening yourself up to this method of change allows you to take the next step to daring greatly: becoming vulnerable.
Being aware of our weaknesses does not make us weak. It makes us stronger as we learn to achieve our goals. Other people knowing about our weaknesses also does not make us weak. No one would call FDR our weakest president just because he used a wheelchair.
Real change, real connection, and real achievement require vulnerability. The man in the arena could not fail if he stayed home but he also could not triumph either. We have to risk failing to succeed.
That is why I think this book is a worthwhile read. It is not enough to know that I can do great things, I need to find the strength to accept that bad things can happen too.
If you find yourself frustrated with your life goals and filled with a sense of shame and unworthiness, this book is for you.