It’s Not the Critic Who Counts: Reflections on Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena

“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, 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 and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; Who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

President Theodore Roosevelt

Speech at the Sorbonne

April 23, 1910

It’s really no contest when someone asks me about my favorite quote. I found this one about 6 years ago just when I needed it – when I needed a fresh perspective on my “bias towards action.” It’s called Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena.

Sticking your neck out isn’t always easy – especially when it’s tinted with a lot of grey. Arrows can fly. Second guessing can abound.

Consequently, my friend fear can sometimes convince me that the prospect of being wrong, or suffering negative critique,  can justify prolonged indecision.

But then there’s Teddy.

He frames his argument towards action perfectly by not only venerating “the triumph of high achievement” but bestowing nobility on failure, leaving the option of doing nothing (literally) out in the cold.

So whenever Mr. Fear eats away at my confidence, I turn to Mr. Roosevelt, who has never let me down.

Because above all else, I want to know those “great enthusiasms and devotions”.

What else can a half-fuller do?  🙂


  1. says

    This is brilliant! I had never heard this quote before, and I thank you for sharing it. When we can recognize the nobility in failure when daring to strive for great things, it helps to lessen the grasp of fear. And thank goodness for those that have dared to risk failure, and whose success has bettered mankind.

    Cheers to you!

    Jennifer Fong

  2. Lou Columbus says

    Fantastic post. I can relate, especially the “tinted with a lot of grey” comment. Thanks!

  3. says

    Thanks Terry definitely one for the scrapbook. So many people want, or are told, to be perfect straight out of the gate that they often never open the gate to begin with. It’s much easier to steer when you have some, any, momentum.

  4. rockerruth says

    I was really surprised to see that someone had listed this as their favorite quote! It has been my favorite for a number of years also. I found it printed in a special education newsletter sent from my daughter’s school. I cut it out and taped it to my home computer desk for continued reference. In this age where being positive minded is so popular, I feel that many people DO fear sticking their neck out because they don’t want to do something negative….like try and fail. The part I like best is the ending. I never want to be considered one of those cold and timid souls so I keep trying, sometimes with success, sometimes with failure, but ALWAYS trying.

  5. John Harrison says

    For many years, this iconic speech has been my mantra in times of doubt, hurt and struggle. It was difficult to trim it to four lines, but I hope my lineage will live by the principle as they see me both living and wearing it. (I have a tattoo of it on the inside of my right arm). See the tattoo on Facebook (John Harrison, Tampa Florida)

  6. sawyer gard says

    Hi I am a high school student, and i was wondering who teaddy was giving this speech to, and why


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