My friend Chuck Wood sent me a piece of paper with this quote on it years ago. I have posted it at my home or workplace ever since. At this moment it is in my cubicle at work next to my computer. What an incredible statement.
In most sports, when you are not very good, it is not all that obvious. In team sports like football, basketball, or soccer, you ride the bench most of the time. Unless you have friends or family in the stands, no one notices that you are not playing. They may see your clean uniform or observe that you fell asleep on the grass, but that is about it. You can hide your lack of skills even better in golf or tennis since someone would have to actively watch you for a while to determine your skill level. They might even witness you making a rare decent shot and think that you are pretty good. Well, as long as they don't stick around long.
In the sport of Cross Country running, you cannot hide. Everyone runs the same race distance at the same time. The best runners cross the finish line to everyone's excitement and applause, and rightly so. Witnessing the end of a five mile race is thrilling. After that excitement is over, the rest of the runners come pouring over the line. The energy starts to diminish as more and more runners finish and the spectators start to seek out the runners they came to cheer on. Finally, several minutes after the winners, the back of the pack runners cross the line. Some people are still there to cheer you on, but as you finish your main concern becomes watching for spectators who think the race is over and start walking across the course without looking. There is not much glory in it.
In Track and Field, slower sprinters don't get as much notice because their race is over so quickly, throwers are off in their own section, and jumpers all go one at a time. Distance runners cannot hide. The longer the distance, the more opportunity to fall behind in front of the entire crowd. Worst of all is getting lapped. That is when the fast runners are so far ahead of you that they actually catch up and pass you. It's awful and everyone in the stadium sees it. You just hope that most of the spectators got bored and took a bathroom break during your race.
In those times I needed to remind myself that I loved to run and it did not matter what anyone else thought. I'm sure there were people that judged me for my lack of ability and wondered why I tried so hard at something when I was not great at it, but their opinion did not matter. There are lots of critics in this world. If you doubt it, read the comments section of anything posted on the internet. Also, be prepared for part of your soul to die if you do that. I digress. Sorry.
Teddy Roosevelt was right. The critic does not count. Success in life comes from stepping into the ring, knowing that you may get knocked out in the first round. The fear swirls around inside your head and your heart wants to escape from your body but you still have to face your opponent, all by yourself and in the way that only you can. Win or lose, after the bout critics will tell what you did wrong and how you should have crossed instead of jabbing and how they would have won in the second round. None of that matters. You were the one in the arena. You can hold your head high because, win or lose, you left your blood and sweat in the ring and in the process gave your best shot. Front of the pack or back of the pack, that is a powerful lesson in life.