3 Tactics to Deal With Critics Like Teddy Roosevelt

“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 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 and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for 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 he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

— Theodore Roosevelt, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23rd, 1910

We can take four things from this quote.

1. Take heart.

If you know that you’re putting yourself out there, betting everything you’ve got on you, and working as hard as you reasonably can to make your life work, then good for you. Forget the people in the pleated khakis judging you from 30 years down the road. Forget your friends who played it safe. Forget the people in the industry in which you’re trying to make it and tell you there’s not a market for what you’re doing. There’s always a market for what you’re doing if you’re doing it well. Take heart. You’re alone. But that’s the beauty of it. Nobody else gets what you’re doing. And nobody else is going to get what you’re doing until it’s too late. Then, everybody will get it. And that will be a good day. Take heart.

The positive feeling I received from changing in response to criticism far outweighed the pain of hearing the comment.

2. Take criticism.

Critics make it better. Critics push 1.0 to 1.1. They push 1.1 to 2.0. They push beta to launch. They push you from better to worse. I remember that one time, I was ghost writing a project for an NFL player, and he made a comment about my back muscles. This guy was 300+ pounds and very muscular. He said: “Your back muscles are underdeveloped. You need to work out your back more.” My first thought: “Screw you, dude. Not everybody gets paid millions of dollars to lift weights all day.” The first thing I did when I arrived home: I started working out my back more. And people noticed. And people commented. And that felt good. The feeling I got from changing because of what he said far outweighed the pain of hearing the comment.

Critics incite violent thoughts in my head. But that’s my ego. And my ego doesn’t want me to change. But I actually want to change.

When you’re criticized, try to move past the ego and the trigger. Try to find that kernel of truth and change as quickly as possible. In almost every criticism, you will find a path to euphoria that you hadn’t seen before. Criticism is just free advice that’s poorly packaged. Every ounce of criticism stings. It hurts. Critics incite violent thoughts in my head. But that’s my ego. And my ego doesn’t want me to change. I want to change. Lean into the pain so that you can push through to the change.

3. Take energy.

If you’re creating any real value in this world, you are doing something worthwhile, and you will have critics. From every good person in this world, there is another person calling that person a self-righteous Pharisee. For every creative in the world, there is turtle-neck-wearing hipster with a scathing blog telling everyone how “derivative” it is. There is no such thing as free value in this world—every ounce of good you do will attract the forces of evil to conquer and kill any life that you have brought into the world.

Take energy. Fight tooth and nail. You are in the right. Pivot where necessary, but remember—resistance is a sign that you’re actually doing something. Take energy, and keep pushing. Don’t give up. Don’t let critics win. If critics win, there’s no more good in the world. None. The amount of good in this world is directly proportionate to the number of thick-skinned originators who are willing to tolerate public ridicule and mockery for attempting to formulate the most excellent version of the truth they can conceive. Good. Truth always comes with a cost. It shouldn’t, but it does. And you’re standing at the line right now—the line of paying that cost. Will you pay it? Or will you fade into the background and become a critic?

Seek to articulate truth, and you will attract criticism like a sale on ice cream cake attracts the fatties.

Stay. Fight. Push. On the other side of this hill lies glory. On the other side of these critics lies a community of like-minded individuals. On the other side of that smug, self-righteous punk is a group of people who want to thank you for helping them. Keep going. Keep pushing. Critics are nameless, faceless, pitiable creatures in the scheme of things. Seek to articulate truth, and you will attract criticism like a sale on ice cream cake attracts the fatties.

4. Take heed (lest you be a critic).

And finally—are you a critic? If you are, it’s because you have lost your purpose in life. Your furnace has lost its flame of meaning. What is your worthy cause? Do you know it? Do you have one? What are you doing with your life? Or are you numb? Are desensitized and disenchanted? Are you cynical? You are. Because you don’t know how to answer these questions anymore. You’ve become so intoxicated with yourself that you are no longer seeking anything above yourself. That’s what the book of proverbs calls the road to death. Have you noticed a diminishment in your impulse control lately? More binge eating? More drinking? More relational explosions? More desperation? It’s all the same ball of wax. You need to find your ideal again. You need to find your life again.

“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 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 and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for 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 he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

— Theodore Roosevelt, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23rd, 1910

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