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Man in the arena

It is not the critic who counts, 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.




I was caught in a déjà vu moment this week as I listened to John, a dear friend and mentor, as he talked about the criticisms that are hurled at him following every decision he makes. I listened intently as he spoke while I waited to add my commentary to the discussion.

man in the arena

As John elaborated, the words from a speech titled Citizenship in a Republic echoed in my head. The historic speech was given by former President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt in France in 1910.

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.

Those words were uttered by Roosevelt, but at the first opportunity I got to speak, I repeated as much of them that I remembered. John got the message, but it was just a reinforcement of what he already knew.

I would be hard pressed to find anyone who has not had their fair share of criticism. It comes bundled in the package of high achievement or high office. As John was once cautioned, the higher you go, the thinner the air. That is a profound statement for those of us in the aviation industry as it is literally the truth.

Like an aircraft with the best aerodynamic design that uses its trust to stay aloft, high achievers and holders of high office must power through the noise of the critics to stay on the trajectory.

At the dawn of my aviation career, Courtney, another good friend, said “you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.” With that said, you’re in no winning position against your critics. If one were to attempt to please the critics, he will become a slave to them and achieve nothing.

As John Wayne said “a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.” For my aviation career, this translates into following the books [guidance, procedures and SARPS issued by ICAO] and fundamental management practices. This however has not spared me any of the brutal criticisms, but I make no apologies for it. I believe that we are all served well if we stand on the shoulders of giants.

But, back to the man in the arena, inaction is not an option that he can exercise. He must make a decision and act upon it swiftly. Some may succeed and others will not, but credit must be given for trying. John C. Maxwell, one of my favorite authors, characterized it best when he said “Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn.”

We are all the beneficiaries of the things around us that makes our lives meaningful. Thanks to people who were criticized, who tried and failed, but powered through nonetheless and succeeded.

I would be the last person to trample upon the rights of someone who sees the need to criticize. But before he/she does, I’d say speak with the experience of having had your face marred by dust, sweat and blood from being in the arena.

I am ready to step on the gas. Make my day. Go ahead and criticize me!


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About Wayne Farley

Wayne Farley

I am Wayne, an aviation safety evangelist who once made my living working in the control tower. Engage me while I share my thoughts, experience, and news from the aviation world. After writing "13 Characteristics of an air traffic controller" in 2010, it went viral and established me as an unofficial ambassador for ATC.

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