The Folly of Paying Attention to Critics

Robert Terson

One of my favorite quotations, which I offered in the July 30th post, is from President Theodore Roosevelt.  It goes like this:

“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 and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, 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 he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Critics abound, you’ll find them everywhere; and they won’t be reticent about offering you advice.  In too many cases, that advice will be to give up your dream, because…in the critic’s opinion, you don’t have what it takes to achieve your dream.  You’re either not smart enough, talented enough, good-looking enough, tall enough, experienced enough, educated enough, possess enough money, or any one of a thousand other reasons that will sound oh so plausible.

The critic will be so sure of himself—often arrogantly so—that, at the very least, you’ll feel compelled to take notice, ponder the “truth” of what he’s said; at the very worst, he’ll knock you off your horse to the point you’ll give up on the spot.  In some cases he’ll wrap his opinion in a sarcastic cellophane reminiscent of Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s admonitions to his colleagues—Antonin Scalia, Carnac the Magnificent of the law profession—or a religious zealot’s (they’ll always look you right in the eyes) proclamation that you’re doomed if you don’t accept his religious doctrine because it’s the only true doctrine.

If you don’t have a strong sense of self, an ironclad belief in yourself and your dream, it’s difficult to withstand the critic’s onslaught.  I mean, they’re such Mavens, so knowledgeable, so wise.  You size up the situation and decide, Who are you to go against Carnac the Magnificent?

Of course, in many cases the critic is providing you the excuse you secretly hungered for anyway.  That was a gigantic mountain you were starring up at and, if truth be told, you were in no hurry to begin the long, arduous climb, were you?

I have news for you: every great achiever ran into one of these critics—or, more likely, multiple critics—who tried to kill his dream, too: The guy who invented the wheel, Lincoln, Edison, Ford, Tolstoy, Madame Curie, Gandhi, all of them.  There will never be a shortage of critics, and I have not a doubt in the world that some of them are out to “get” you.

A young woman I know has the talent to be a great playwright, another Tennessee Williams.  In high school, a teacher tried to talk her out of her dream, told her she didn’t have what it takes, poured discouragement on like it was sweet lemonade, all in the guise of doing the woman a favor, saving her from years of frustrating failure.  That’s how they package it: they want to save you from your foolish self.  Such saints they are.  How noble of them.

Don’t listen!  Always trust your own instincts!  If your instincts tell you that it’s possible, that you can do it, follow those instincts.  And once you begin the worthy quest, never give up.  We started with a great presidential quotation, so let’s finish with another great presidential quotation, this one from Calvin Coolidge.  I’ve used it many times on this site:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Put on a pair of earmuffs and go for it!  Stick with it!  Ignore the critics!

You’ll get there!