One of the most uplifting, paradigm-shifting quotations I have read is an eloquent reflection on success, failure and courage, by Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States.
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never tasted victory or defeat.” ~Theodore Roosevelt
I first read this quotation during my early college years, and still remember my eyes widening and my mind doing an about-turn.
You see, I used to tie success to outcomes. Did I pass or did I fail? Was that performance good enough? Or was it bad? Did I win? Or did I lose?
But Roosevelt reminds me that there is a better way to look at success and failure. Sure, we have aspirations. A small group of us may even dream of becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or a Tour De France champion, or a doctor who finds the cure for cancer, or someone with a glorious marriage. And an even smaller group may realize some of these dreams and “know the triumph of high achievement.”
But what really matters, according to Roosevelt, is that we stay true to our dreams, get on “the arena” and “strive valiantly” even if “we err and come short.”
Liberating! This means we don’t have to “win” with every dream and aspiration. What matters more, is that we find the courage and devotion to give ourselves to a worthy cause.
So success or failure, does it matter? Maybe not as much as we think, for in one courageous act, lies our victory – victory over fear, victory over self.