There are times in everyone's lives when the bad stuff hits.
Sometimes the bad stuff hits all at once. Sometimes the bad stuff hits gradually over time. Sometimes the hits are so bad that you don't feel like getting out of bed, leaving your house or answering your phone. Sometimes the bad stuff makes you turn inward. Sometimes it makes you implode on yourself. Sometimes it makes you explode on others. No matter how you react to the bad stuff, one thing is shared - the bad stuff exists for all of us at some point in our lives.
As I have been reflecting on our shared experiences with the bad stuff lately, I have been considering them within the context of this time of year. All around us, school years are coming to an end. Young adults everywhere are marking the end of their college and high school experiences in commencement and graduation exercises and even little children are participating in preschool graduation ceremonies. This is a time of reflection and goal setting.
With all of this around me, I can't help but think back 20 years ago to my own high school graduation. While I cannot recall the specifics of my commencement speech, I do recall the quote I referenced throughout the speech. As the class Valedictorian, I wanted to inspire my class to action and success. The tenets of the quote I referenced have been kicking around in the back of my head recently, begging to be let out. So, I am sharing the quote again; this time not to inspire people to individual greatness or to action but to normalize our shared experience of the bad stuff in life:
"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
For the 17 year old version of me, this quote was all about being your best, striving for greatness and setting up the best future possible for yourself, knowing that it would take fight, courage and, sometimes, even failure. But, today I look at this quote in a much different way. To me, it is a quote filled with questions:
- Are you stumbling these days?
- Are you reflecting on how you could have done things better?
- Is someone else pointing out your shortcomings?
- Are you failing?
- Are you finding yourself totally spent but spent for a worthy cause?
- Are you tired of the fight?
At some point in our lives, we all can answer at least one of these questions with a resounding "YES!"
For me, as I look at this quote all these years later, I see that it truly doesn't really matter whether you succeed or fail. What matters is that you are out there - you are in the arena. You are trying. You are doing. You are living. And, until we know failure, loss and sacrifice, we cannot truly appreciate the sweetness of success and all the beauty life has to offer us.
So, to the person in the arena, with the face marred by "dust and sweat and blood", look around. If you take a moment to pause your battle and take stock of where you are right now, you will see that you are not alone. There are lots of us in the same arena and while we all are fighting versions of our own battles, our own bad stuff, some of us are here to help fight each other's battles as well. This arena can be a scary, dangerous place but it isn't a vast empty space.
The arena isn't a space in which we all fight our own battles; instead, the arena is a place where we can gain strength from each other and from knowing that we are not alone. Reach out to those around you in your arena right now and let them help you fight your battles and your bad stuff. The real living in life, after all, takes place in that space between failure and success. It takes place in the arena.
Now, more than ever, we all need a little support to help get us through the rough spots. With all the pressures of life, it can be a challenge to find time to not only take care of yourself but also to truly understand who you even are anymore.