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HR Career Advice - Be The Man (or Woman) In The Arena

Last week I caught up on an episode of the Tim Ferris Show podcast where the host had an intriguing interview with LeBron James and his trainer/recovery specialist, Mike Mancias, about the fitness training, nutrition, and recovery regimen needed to be an elite athlete. In the interview, LeBron and Mike shared a lot of great information on what any athlete (elite or weekend warrior) needs to do to optimize their performance and prevent injury.

There was another part of the interview that stuck with me. Tim Ferris asked Lebron about an obscure quote that LeBron carries with him and why the quote has such meaning for him. The quote, and what it says about all of us, really had an impact on me. I hope all of you will feel the same way.

The quote that LeBron uses to draw inspiration comes from an unlikely source – Teddy Roosevelt, the US President from 1901 to 1909 – Mr. Rough Rider himself. The GoodReads website features 376 Teddy Roosevelt quotes. Needless to say, he left us all with some great material.

But there was one Teddy Roosevelt quote that left a major impact on LeBron James.

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

The quote hits home for me because it recognizes that glory belongs to those who try rather than those who observe. Putting yourself in the arena is no guarantee of success. The man (or let’s be real – the woman) in the arena risks failure, humiliation, their career, and their self-esteem.

Facing down all of the potential downsides and pushing forward with their best effort is what defines those who can achieve real greatness. LeBron James was no doubt blessed with amazing athletic skills, but he still had to learn through failure how to be a true champion.

The same willingness to be in the arena is what drives the corporate warrior to become an entrepreneur, the HR director to stand up to her management and force them to address pay inequities in the workplace, and the concerned citizens to put themselves out there and run for political office against a well-entrenched incumbent.

All of these examples are people who chose the arena versus the safety of watching from the sidelines. They could have chosen the safety of being an observer but instead took the risk to be great. Think about the media overload that we are bombarded with today.

Today we are faced with a massive industry of professional critics ranging from political pundits to sports talk radio hosts who offer their expert opinion on the people in the arena who are taking risks in their efforts to succeed. These critics, from their safe studio perches, can easily point out the failures of those in the arena because they did not have to make a decision where there is no right answer or take a jump shot with no time remaining to win the game.

 The same can be said for those in corporate America who second-guess and laugh at the decisions made by their management (to learn more about this, read my blog: What Is The Biggest Threat To Corporate Culture? – Organizational Cynicism).

The point I am trying to make is that we can all gain inspiration from the Teddy Roosevelt quote. We can find ways to become the man in the arena, or we can respect and recognize (rather than unfairly criticize) the doers who put themselves out there.

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