High-school seniors across America are hearing back from the colleges and universities to which they applied. Many weren’t accepted by their first choice. To them I commend Theodore Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” speech.
Roosevelt’s address, given at the Sorbonne in 1910 and in fact titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” is a paean to high achievement. When I was growing up, it hung by my father’s shaving mirror. I saw it whenever I borrowed his aftershave, which was often.
Invariably, my adolescent eye was drawn to the line explaining why the doer of deeds should always aim high: “If he fails, 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.”
A light went off in my head, almost from the first read. You can’t always win, but you can always choose the arena in which you compete. The grander the stage, the sweeter the victory, yes, but—and this gets forgotten—the less stinging the loss.
Do it enough times and eventually you’ll win. Defeat teaches more lessons than victory ever will; ask anyone who’s had his share of both. But even if you lose, you’re not exactly coming up short on the undercard. You’re going the distance with the heavyweight champ, yielding in the end only to the very best. There’s honor in that.