If You Fail, Do So Daring Greatly.
I have written about my perception of myself many times over the years. My dad received a promotion and moved to Pittsburgh, PA. He wanted his three children to go to college. Therefore, he found the best school system in the area, which was located in Mt. Lebanon. While it was the best school system in the area, it was the 19th best school system in the entire country. His sacrifice financially to live in a golden ghetto of wealth and education meant profound problematic issues for me. I went from being an above average student in an average school system to an average student living in an extremely excellent school system. Getting average grades in Mt. Lebanon meant that I did not even see myself as average.
However, in the middle of my life, I realized that I was not below average intellectually. Since then, I have done well in life and love that experience. Additionally, one of the reasons that I love teaching is because I do not want other students to think less about themselves as I had several decades ago. Therefore, I have been able to use my misconception of myself to help other students from making the same mistake that I had.
While in high school, one of the most hated requirements was memorizing several hundred lines of prose or poetry each year. Over a half century ago, I memorized Teddy Roosevelt's Man in the Arena section of a speech that he gave at the Sorbonne on April 23, 1910. Interestingly, this essay is being posted on the 105-anniversay of Roosevelt's speech. Memorizing the Man in the Arena has benefitted me greatly.
Roosevelt called things as he saw them. I have tried to follow Teddy's suggestions, especially the part about the person "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...." Seldom have I not listened to him during my adult life.
Several weeks ago, I was watching Chris Matthews on Hardball. He was talking with Doris Kearns Goodwin, who is a great writer of American history. She had written an excellent book about Teddy Roosevelt. She talked about the type of genius that Roosevelt possessed. Roosevelt said, "I am only an average man, but, by George, I work harder at it than the average man." While I have some reservation of calling Roosevelt average, I understand his point.
Recently, I applied for a job as a community organizer. I could taste that job. I have been involved in various forms of community organizing during my life. I have studied the writings of Saul Alinsky and understand community organizing. The group looking for a community organizer asked all the candidates to write several essays addressing the committee's questions. One of the questions was what skills I would bring to the job.
Instead of going over skills that the others would mention, which I possess, I chose a different approach. There are two skills, which I possess that most candidates probably could not have possessed. Therefore, I wrote about what made me different or unique. In that essay, I provided the search committee links to articles on my website that I had written about these skills.
The first skill that I possess is that I have danced with death twice. While I would not wish to replicate dealing with prostate cancer or traumatic brain injury, both near death experiences have benefitted me greatly. Both dances with death allowed me to understand fully what Steve Jobs meant when he said that "death is very likely the single best invention of life." Without dancing with death, one cannot truly understand life and its brevity. That single insight drives me. I know that I am not immortal. Therefore, I need to act and produce something of true value during my life. I am more motivated now than I was in the 60s during the civil rights movement due to dancing with death in the past decade. Those two dances were blessings. Believe me.
The other event, which drives me, was a protest rally that I attended at Sule Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar a year and a half ago. That protest rally reminded me of my days back in the 60s. The only difference was that I was in another country. While at the rally in a military dictatorship, all that I could hear inside my head was Joan Baez singing We Shall Overcome.
I sent off to the search committee my essays in response to their questions. I was quite confident that I would get the job. Mix my experiences as a community organizer and my dancing with death and the protest rally in Yangon; I was certain that they would hire me. I waited for the committee to call me for an interview. I had already prepared points that I wanted to express to them and answer all of their questions. I even constructed a half dozen questions that would probably be asked along with my answers. I was prepared.
You guessed it; I did not get the job. Actually, I was not even interviewed. They said that they had received so many qualified candidates that they would only interview several applicants. I was shocked for a couple of minutes; I could not believe it. Then I remembered two things that Teddy Roosevelt said.
Roosevelt in the Man in the Arena said that the person "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." While I felt that I was the candidate needed, the committee did not agree. However, I am the man in the arena in 2015. At least I failed "while daring greatly."
The other statement that Roosevelt made has to do with being a genius. Neither he nor I are at the IQ level of Einstein. Nonetheless, I agree with Roosevelt when he said, "I am only an average man, but, by George, I work harder at it than the average man." A part of the genius that Roosevelt and I share is the way we view the world. Through hard work, we can see the various problem both here and abroad differently than many others. Seeing not only the problem differently is a part of the difference. More importantly, it is to see how to address the problem, which is critical.
Thanks, Teddy. You have helped me a great deal in life.
Visit the Man in the Arena page to read more about this topic.