Teddy Roosevelt guitar practice
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Theodore Roosevelt – “The Man in the Arena” and Our Own Inner Critics


“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


On the surface, there are two characters in this scenario. And we can reflect upon ourselves from the perspective of either.

We can note when we’re the critic – pointing out errors and shortcomings in others. This feels good, because criticizing implies we know something. We temporarily inflate when we point out the shortcomings of others.

And we can take strength from knowing that we are the one “in the arena”. We can remember that our struggles are valiant. We can feel good knowing we’re giving it our all.

But we can also delve a little deeper. When we do, we realize that we are both in the arena, and standing on the sidelines condemning our own efforts.

We are very often our own worst critic. And this is one of the biggest struggles we face. There are no voices louder and more pervasive than the ones in our own heads.

To do anything difficult over time (such as learning to play guitar), we must learn to believe that our inner critic does not speak absolute truths. It simply offers one perspective.

With practice, we can stop reacting to our inner critic with emotion. And we can instead use the criticism as information. We can use it to help guide our efforts.

A powerful leader will listen to many advisors then act from a place of personal conviction. We can do the same.

Our inner critic is one advisor among many, commenting on our stronger self – the brave one “in the arena”.

 


“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




allen mathews classical guitar

About Allen Mathews

Allen Mathews learned guitar as an adult, and has been a full-time guitar teacher for almost two decades to students age 4 to 96.  He has taught classical guitar at Reed College and Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and has been a guest lecturer and clinician at schools and universities throughout the U.S.  Allen is often praised for his creative teaching abilities, and his dedication to helping adults learn classical guitar.  He has a popular Youtube Channel offering regular classical guitar tutorials, and has gained fans worldwide for his weekly emails and articles at ClassicalGuitarShed.com.


Great advise here. I find I am taking more time with the pieces than I would have in the past as I am focusing on the technique you have taught me. It is slower going at first but has fewer frustrations, is easier and sounds better in the end.


-Karen Richardson

I just want to thank you for your lessons. You are helping us to understand how a piece is composed, the parts to analyze and how to do it. You are teaching a lot about how to read and play, and the most important part: PLAY with the music and ENJOY it.


-R. Martinez


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