“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 – Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910
I love this quote from former president Theodore Roosevelt because he pulls back the curtain on what success really looks like. While many of us look at success as an outcome, Roosevelt defines it as a process…the process of “daring greatly”. I have grown to accept this process of “daring greatly” as the blueprint for how I live my life. So often, we look at others and judge ourselves based on what we see in them. We covet someone else’s large corner office, their new house, their fabulous wedding or their seemingly perfect spouse. We may even look at their relationships with family or friends and desire the same for ourselves, however, we must always remember that what we “see” is never what we “get”. We fail to realize that what we are seeing is a highly perspectival part in a process that consist of hard work, choices, opportunity, and God’s vision for their lives. Rarely, do we stop to calculate this cost and factor the same variables into our own success and life.
When we compare ourselves to others, we make unfair assumptions that devalue who we are and overvalue who they are. We automatically compare our process with their perceived outcome. The idea of “daring greatly” gives us a different rubric to determine that success and assess the value of our lives. By “daring greatly” we move away from value determined by reaching certain benchmarks or achieving certain outcomes or “what we do”, and accept value based on our ability to show up authentically in our own lives, and to live into the vision that God has for each one of us or to be “who we are”. For many of us, the very idea of sacrificing “what we do” for “who we are” is risky because many of us struggle with knowing exactly who we really are and what our value is as individuals.
In a culture that assess us based on external values such as the type of job we have, our level of education or where we live, it is risky to assert that we are enough based on our internal values: our character, our morals, our integrity and how we embody God’s vision for our lives. By ‘daring greatly” we assert that the risk-of-being is worth taking because it leads us to the reward of a well-lived life. A well-lived life is one that allows us to live according to our internal values in fulfillment of our own unique purpose and destiny, which I define as God’s vision for each and every one of us. Jeremiah 1:5 reads:
“Before I shaped you in the womb,
I knew all about you.
Before you saw the light of day,
I had holy plans for you:
A prophet to the nations—
that’s what I had in mind for you.” MSG
While we know that this is a specific word regarding the call of Jeremiah as a prophet of God, it also holds valuable insight for each one of us regarding Gods creative process and humanity. According to this scripture, the idea of Jeremiah in the mind of God preceded the reality of Jeremiah in his mother’s womb. In other words, before God created Jeremiah the person, God envisioned Jeremiah the purpose. Before an artist begins to paint, draw or sculpt, the artist must first have an idea of what she wishes to create. This idea, which I call vision serves as the inspiration that drives her creative process. Her vision determines the design, materials, and techniques that she uses to create her work of art. In a similar way, God’s vision for Jeremiah, the prophet, which is his purpose serves as the inspiration that drives God’s design, material selection, and techniques used to create Jeremiah the person.
This pre-ordained “holy plan” gives us the assurance that who we are is enough for the life God wants us to live. By that I mean that everything about us: our physical appearance, our gifts, our strengths, our weaknesses, our blessings, our burdens, our successes and our failures were all designed according to God’s plan for our lives. The challenge for us is in determining what God’s vision is for our lives and having the courage to live faithfully according to that vision.
While this may seem easy, we live in a world of competing interest; parents and loved ones, corporations and advertisers, even our history, political systems and culture all conspire to influence who we are and dictate what’s best for us. The seemingly passive act of showing up as our divinely inspired, authentic selves and living according to our personal values becomes a risky proposition because we must constantly fight “to be” in a world that is pushing us to simply “do”. Just like the man in the arena, we are engaged in a battle of competing interest where we each must decide to live into God’s vision for our lives or to follow the dictates of others. We each must decide to show up as ourselves or to live as impersonators. We each must decide to take the risk of authentic living or choose a counterfeit existence.
When we are vision driven people, God’s vision for our lives drives our thoughts, and our actions, but more than that it is the very essence of who we are in the world, the inspiration for our very being. The “man in the arena” analogy is so powerful because it crystalizes the challenge of “daring greatly”, which is to live authentically, and audaciously, as we were created knowing that worldly success may or may not come and that vision-driven living is it’s own and greatest reward.