Estimated read time: 12 minutes

The following words make up one of my favorite quotes, and they are the foundation to one of my favorite books…

“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.” -President Theodore Roosevelt, April 23, 1920

Those words were stated by one of the greatest men our country has probably ever known. And now these words were just written by one of the most insecure men the world has ever known. I have a confession: I’ve given way too much of my life to the critic. Maybe like you have. Maybe, like me, you’ve looked time and time again at the one who points out every detail of your life that they deem out of order. Maybe their voice echoes in the silence of the night when you’re laying in bed trying your best just to sleep.

That was your boy right here, and, in all honesty, sometimes it still is. Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m some valiant Warrior beaten and bruised on the arena floor, but what I am going to do is say that every minute I spent looking at and listening to the voice of the critic, I neglected the real fight ahead of me. They say that comparison is the thief of all joy, which I believe is completely true, however, criticism comes in at a pretty close second.

Here’s the thing, the critics are EVERYWHERE. With the exponentially explosive growth of social media, we’ve seen the even more exponentially explosive growth of what we like to call the keyboard warriors…which many times goes beyond critic straight to “if you were face to face with the person you’re criticizing, you’d get punched in the face.”

Sometimes it seems like we’ve lost the ability to make a mistake, have a different opinion, or even enjoy a win in our lives. The fear of what others might think, while unhealthy in and of itself, has morphed into this vacuum where, for many, the very idea of being open about anything sucks every ounce of courage out of us.

Why would I ever want to be vulnerable? The critic has gotten awfully “brave” as of late, forcing us to pull back into our own seemingly safe world today more than ever, creating isolation like we’ve never seen before, that drives more and more people into depression at higher rates than any other time in human history.

On the flip side, We’ve also seen the rise of “false security.” Folks will “bear their soul” all over social media. Any engagement is better than no engagement. They take the good with the bad and think they’re filling the vulnerability tank, when in reality, it’s fake…it’s false. They’ll engage with complete strangers, while having not one physical person that they’re open with face to face.
I know that some of you reading this have probably already placed yourself in one of two categories, one being that of “screw what others say, I don’t care” and the other being “okay Trey, have you been reading my journal?”

Wherever you find yourself, go with me as we look at a few truths that can help us find the freedom and courage to stand and fight FOR what is worth fighting for.

1. Define the win.
Why am I “in the arena” fighting? I’ve got a friend and his wife who are in the very early stages of starting their own medical practice. Do they know what they’re doing? Not at all. Are they going to make mistakes? Absolutely. Are they going to want to quit? No doubt. BUT, what nobody sees is the hours and hours of hard work that they are putting in right now, when nobody really even knows what they are doing, to learn and grow. Why would they do this? Why would they open themselves up to something they know will come with heartache and exhaustion, as well as a few folks who will inevitably point the criticizing finger at their efforts? Because of the people that they want to help. Because the area they live in does not have the type of medical support that they want to offer. Because they can’t fathom the thought of wasting the tools and skillsets they believe are straight from God Himself.

When we started the Network almost 9 years ago, I felt this too. No clue how we would do this thing or what we would even do, but I knew I wanted to take care of service members. I knew there was a need. I knew I was put on this planet to help meet this need.

2. Not everybody is a critic.
Inevitably, whether you’re putting yourself out there chasing your dreams or you’re doing something you believe to be good for your family or whatever else it might be, you’re going to come across people and their opinions. BUT, let me submit this to you (and I am still learning this today)…not EVERY voice is a critical one. Do not do what I did and filter every voice that spoke to me as a negative one. That is one of the most serious mistakes we can make.

3. Consider the source.
How do we discern the right voice to listen to? Well, here’s a brief list...
  • Does this person know me?
  • Does this person love me?
  • Has this person ever intentionally tried to hurt me?
  • Do I trust this person?
  • Do they have experience?

Those are just a few distinguishing differences between someone who is a critic and someone who actually want’s what’s best for you. And many times, they see something inside of you that you can’t see, or they see something that is holding you back that you don’t realize. Their voice in your life is VITAL, and when you’re standing their bloody and beaten, their presence is what is there. I am personally trying to learn how to allow these voices in my life to overwhelm the echos from the critics that don’t need space in my heart and mind.

4. Ask the hard questions.
It’s not much of a secret if you know me that I have ADHD (cause I’ll either tell ya or you’ll realize it pretty quickly). Like any other medical diagnosis, ADHD comes with it’s sometimes debilitating effects. Another thing ADHD can do is make it tough on your personal and professional relationships. It’s hard wired in a weird way to my personality. But, does that mean that I can let the effects of ADHD rule my life and cause havoc in everything I touch or do? Not at all. It’s something I must live with, adapt with, and grow with. There are things that ADHD actually helps me with, like creativity and compassion, and then there are things that it doesn’t, like procrastinating and finishing things.

I can’t throw out the baby with the bath water so to speak, and say “well it’s just who I am, so y'all just got to deal with it.” So what can I do to grow even though this impacts my life daily? Look at the people in number 3 that I have defined as safe, and let them help me. Cause these are facts:
  • They know me.
  • They love me.
  • They have never done anything to intentionally hurt me.
  • I trust them with my life.
  • Their experiences have already made me better.

Because these things are TRUE, they now have the ability to speak truth and wisdom into my life. Will that hurt? Sure, but it will hurt me in the long run a lot more if I don’t let them in and let them help me.

I say all that to say this: I have a responsibility to look at my own life and ask what patterns are not healthy for me. So, while the critics might point and tear down, these people (my wife, my team, my friends) they see me, they love me, and they help me see that their might be a little truth to what the so-called critics say, but the critics leave out what these people give, and that is solution, leadership, care, help, hope, honesty, etc.

Now I know some of you aren’t religious, but just go with me for a sec. In Christianity and many other religions, there is an opposing antagonist, Satan, the devil, Lucifer, whatever you want to call him. The Bible calls him “the accuser”. Now, I am NOT equating critics to Satan, do not read into that, cause that’s NOT what I am saying. What I am saying is this. His accusations are usually some sort of truth mixed in with a little bit of a lie. The voice of the critic sometimes is the same. Sometimes there is truth in their finger pointing. This is where we need to evaluate, with the help of our trusted circle, and let growth have it’s way. Funny how negativity can actually be used for good, isn’t it? My greatest seasons of growth have come out of this very thing.

5. Remind yourself of the win.
When you’re standing there, seemingly alone, beaten, bruised, bloody. You’re weary, broken, questioning everything. You feel alone, you feel defeated, you feel hopeless.

Go back.
To where?
To that place where you defined your “why.”

Remind yourself why you do what you do…why you’re fighting, why you care, why this is important, why this matters. You WHY will always determine the WIN…and it will bring it back into focus.

Remember those that walked with you this far. Consider their heart. Pull them close. Face whatever you need to face with them, even if it begins with facing issues between you and them. Like you are to them at certain points in time, they are now your strength. And that strength comes, right now, in vulnerability. That same vulnerability that let you charge hell with a water pistol back when you started. You were okay with not knowing, not having the answers, not understanding, cause you were driven by your WHY. Let that WHY create the next definable WINS.

So today, in whatever arena you’re fighting in, fight with everything inside of you, cause the fight is worth it. Let the shaky voices of the “armchair quarterback” be placed up against the realities of WHY you’re fighting and WHO you’re fighting with, and you will find two things:

  1. The WHY and WHO far outweigh the critics.
  2. The WHY and WHO put the voice of the critic into perspective and what was meant for bad ends up working for good!

And if you find yourself as the unhinged critic out there, remember these other words from Roosevelt, “The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer…A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities—all these are marks, not ... of superiority but of weakness.”