There is a quotation by Teddy Roosevelt from his speech “Citizenship in a Republic,” that is commonly referred to as the “man in the arena” quote. It goes:
“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.”
Motherhood is the daily decision to step into the arena. There is no way to be a mom that will not, sooner or later, invite the comments of the critics. They will find you and find ways to make you feel insufficient, unkempt, and unworthy. The trick is to step back into the arena the next day regardless of what you may feel about your efforts. There are mornings where all I want to do is get in my minivan and drive myself to the nearest beach. Instead I tell myself that the beach is cold, I hate sand, and my six month old is adorable.
If you have special needs children in your family, the decision to be really present with them, not merely going through the motions, is all the more vital. It is hard to emotionally invest every day in a child’s needs when they struggle with basic self-care. It is hard to stay cheerful and positive when report cards and tests come back below average after night upon night of review and homework. It is hard to make today a new opportunity for learning and growth and fun, when you wake up knowing that today will hold all the same struggles as yesterday.
I think the trick to maintaining the courage to stand every day in the arena of motherhood is to not go in alone. If you are fortunate enough to have a spouse, take them with you by greeting them at days end with your tiny victories and asking about theirs. This way you each stand with the other though apart during the day. Make your children stand with you by giving them choices (See Parenting with Love and Logic if you haven’t already). And most importantly, never walk into the arena without the Lord. Believe that He can do all things, including getting through that next load of laundry, dishes, homework, cupcakes for the PTO, scouts, and the hundreds of other "things" that are part of daily being a mom. More importantly the Lord will help you find the strength to say, “I can do this.”
As writers we put ourselves in the arena by being true to our works, by not second guessing the things about which we are writing. They resonate with us for a reason. We should be bold enough to put them out into the world. It is not enough to dabble with words and stories about which we feel passionately, and then shy away from sharing them with excuses about not being educated enough, polished enough, pretty enough for the limelight. These are all voices of fear, doing their best to keep us standing just outside those arena doors. But if we learn anything from Teddy’s quotation, it’s that failure is part of the success equation. We will fall down, get rejected, kicked in the face. And while the world might sit above us in the audience, pointing and laughing, they will never know the exquisite joy of success, the thrill of starting anew, or the triumph in getting back up from the place where you fell.
What arenas are you afraid to enter? Which ones are you proud of confronting? Are there times that you are the critic, sitting above it all? What new arenas will you enter this year?
Inspiration for this post came from the following youtube video. Enjoy!