Skip to content

Teddy Roosevelt’s Man In The Arena

May 22, 2023

Caricature of U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt drawn by illustrator Mark ArmstrongI’ve been doing caricatures of some American presidents. Here’s Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919) who served as the 26th president (1901-1909). He’s one of the most famous, and even has a spot on Mt. Rushmore, along with heavy hitters Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

He’s remembered mostly today (if at all!) for charging up San Juan Hill in Cuba (I drew him in his old Rough Rider hat), establishing national parks, and saying, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Oh– and the Teddy Bear (whose origin was a fluke, really).blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

I can’t remember how old I was when I first came across his The Man In The Arena speech. It knocked me for a loop. I thought: this is what it’s all about– this is how you live your life.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

It was actually part of a speech titled Citizenship in a Republic. He delivered it at the Sorbonne in Paris on April 23, 1910, after his presidency.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Here’s the small part that’s usually quoted as the Arena speech. It’s only two sentences!!– but the second sentence goes on and on. It’s worth every phrase, tho, and I’ve broken Sentence #2 up for easier reading.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

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 the 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.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

You don’t hear speeches like that anymore. It still gives me a tremendous thrill. Too flowery, you say? Too wordy? I disagree. Today’s soundbites don’t have that kind of power. They go in one ear and out the other.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

How many posts have you read on motivation? being proactive? taking risks?? I’ve lost count, they’re all the same. And I think I know why.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

They’re all focused on a successful outcome: winning, making it– or, as James Cagey would say: “Top of the world!!”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Roosevelt was reminding us of a deeper truth: that true victory is in the striving, the going for it. Not the win, not the loss, not the outcome.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Sure, we all want to win, to be successful. But Roosevelt knew that striving was the important thing– getting in the arena, taking the blows, giving it your best shot and letting the chips fall where they may.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

It reminds me of the lines in Rudyard Kipling‘s famous poem, If:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same… (my emphasis)blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Teddy wasn’t perfect by a long shot. I’m not sure I would have liked him personally. But he wasn’t just paying lip-service to striving. He lived his life in the arena.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

We need to do the same.
blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       * blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, branding, social media, and content marketing. My images are different, like your brand needs to be.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Questions? Send me an email.blank vertical space, 40 pixels highRecommendation testimonial for Mark Armstrong Illustration from Freddy J. Nager creative strategist USC professor marketing communication

blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

blank vertical space, 40 pixels high

4 Comments leave one →
  1. spookster01 permalink
    May 22, 2023 11:51 AM

    Ah… I remember the words neatly tied into a statue of Teddy at the beginning of the eighties movie, “Red Dawn”. All true. Wonder what he would have to say if he was alive today?! Good newsletter Mark. Hope all is well in your neck of the woods.



    • May 23, 2023 11:02 AM

      Red Dawn… I think you had a bit part on that movie, didn’t you?? 😅

      Yeah, what would TR say about the state of our culture today? I hate to think– and I’d have to agree with him.

      All well here in NH, except for the annual invasion of black flies– I have to wear my trusty bug helmet when I’m out raking last year’s leaves!!

      Thanks, John– always great to hear from you! 👍


  2. May 22, 2023 12:00 PM

    I can see why you were so enthralled by the speech!
    Reminds me a bit of another quote about being in the arena (there are variations by several people) “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”


    • May 23, 2023 11:05 AM

      Hi, Margy! Yes, that speech is a rouser– always seems to be what I need to hear!

      I like that one about the ship– sounds familiar. And it reminds me: I need to get the barnacles scraped off my hull one of these days!!

      Hope all’s well with you, and thanks as always for your kind support!! 🙏😊

      Liked by 1 person

A penny for your thoughts. I'm on a tight budget here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: