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“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; 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.” Theodore Roosevelt

As a kid, I remember watching the end of a Miss USA contest with my mom (yes, we were a highly intellectual family!). It was the final part of the competition where the judges do an outstanding job of making three women feel they’ve won….before ruining two of the beauties nights. Once announced, the actual winner wept with joy, was crowned queen, and walked toward the adoring, picture-taking, hand-waving crowd. Mom turned off the television, looked at me and said, “You know John, all it takes is one person in that entire crowd to say one negative thing about her legs, or her dress, or her hair and it would ruin her entire night.”

That night I realized mom was probably right; earlier this week I realized how right she was.
On Tuesday this week I enjoyed the privilege of speaking before a state conference of real estate agents. For 75 minutes we journeyed through an emotional story of tragedy, selfless teamwork, perseverance, hope, faith, real significance and having the courage to step toward one’s dreams. I shared some pieces of my story with them, but continually brought the story full circle into what it means for them, what they can do with it, and how it can change their personal and professional lives.

Upon finishing, the audience of over 600 leapt to their feet for a very touching sign of gratitude. Many came up afterwards and personally shared what the presentation meant for them. Hugs and tears were the currency of the day used to say ‘thank you’ – and the payment was an incredibly generous display; the beauty queen (um, I mean the speaker) was on top of the world!

But all it takes is one, right?

After packing up and racing toward the car for a two-hour drive and then a flight home I stopped in the men’s room for a much needed pit stop. While in there I had the distinction of hearing two men in stalls critique the presentation. It was a surreal moment hearing others speaking aloud about my impact on them. One was on fire with the message – loved the emotion, the humor, how it became personal and action focused; I smiled while washing my hands – the beauty pageant crown felt so good!

Then the other judge spoke. He felt it was contrived, too impractical, and totally unusable in his life. He concluded by saying that there was nothing new in it for him and nothing he hadn’t heard before.

I dried my hands and burned out of the bathroom – rejected and dejected.

After an hour of sulking, I remember, the truth spoken years earlier by mom – not only that one person can ruin the entire experience, but she added afterwards, “John, always know that you deeply matter and are way bigger than someone else’s opinion of you.”

Sounds kind of soft years later, but on the ride toward the airport these words reminded me that we each face critics in everything we do, don’t we? Experts who tell us that we are lousy parents, poor professionals, weak salespeople, lame managers, ineffective leaders, horrible educators, ignorant students, inattentive heath care providers. Remember today that the critic doesn’t count; nor the expert who points out your stumbles. The credit belongs to individual whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strive valiantly; who err and come short again; but who actually strive to do the deed; who know the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, of spending themselves in a worthy cause.

Today my friends, get back in the arena, get ready to fight, get ready to fail, get ready to hear people critique you, get ready to ignore them, get ready to get off the ground and get ready to make a difference for others through your life. Finish washing your hands and smile as you leave the restroom. Because, ultimately, it doesn’t matter in the least what others say about you. For in their criticism we are offered the choice between two opposites: to be pulled down into their negativity and misery or to use their feedback to fuel us forward as we journey forward writing a legacy of real significance.

This isn’t an invitation for average performance and ignorance toward feedback. No, it is instead a reminder that any fool can have an opinion; only a true leader can make a difference.

John O’Leary, www.risingabove.com

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Live Inspired Together is a community of friends changing the world together, starting with their own. In a world that often focuses on negativity, John O’Leary - Live Inspired shares the other side of the story through his member-supported channels (essays, Live Inspired Podcast, video, webcasts, social platforms) to connect our community and share inspiration and actions to live it. Support now.