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  • Reverend James Squire

In the Arena

The Joke of Success…A painter, an appliance repairman and Michael Jordan walk into a bar…

I tend to ask a lot of questions when I am with people who have accomplished something that I feel is important. Recently we had a painter paint our kitchen and an appliance man repair a stove. They had a ready answer when I asked them a question which told me they had been asked this kind of question many times before in their work. Their responses are what leads to success and accomplishment in life.

I watched the painter working as I was working in my home office off a hallway where he was practicing his craft. I could see what he was doing. I asked him why he didn’t need to use tape to separate his wall painting to what was on the ceiling. I told him that I always use tape to do that. I almost knew in that moment how he was going to respond. He said, “After 16 years you learn how to paint so that you only get it where you want it.”

The appliance repairman took five minutes to diagnose and fix the problem. He too knew that the question was coming, and he was ready. He said, “You are wondering how I can charge you so much for such little time at the job? After 20 years repairing appliances, I can do the job in a matter of minutes after working for 20 years to become an expert.

Michael Jordan is regarded as the greatest of all time in the sport of basketball. But our young people forget how he managed to succeed at such a high level. He said, “I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been trusted to take the game winning shot…and missed. And I have failed over and over again in life. And that is why I succeed.”

I know a person who is a writer, actor, director and another who is self-taught and has become

an organic farmer and now has interns from universities such as a Ph.D. from NYU and Yale to learn about regenerative farming. I know another whose passion and expertise are bringing the arts to communities in new and exciting ways to various parts of our nation. Like Jordan, grit, failures, and coming up short has been why they have succeeded. I believe that they never would have achieved everything that they have without practice and what the world would perceive as failure. It is called grit.

The standard piece of well-known humor encapsulates this truth. When asked by a person on a street corner in New York City, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The New Yorker’s response is, “Practice, practice, practice.”

Teddy Roosevelt used the image of an arena to describe how grit, failure, and success go hand in hand. He gave his famous address, “Citizen in a Republic,” at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on April 23, 1920. He describes how someone succeeds in life.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deed 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, who comes up 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; his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

But here’s the point. Arenas take many forms. They can be a wall to paint, an appliance to fix, a shot to make, a film to direct, a field to prepare in a new way, or a city waiting for an innovative approach to art and culture.

A Painter, an appliance repairman, and Michael Jordan walk into a bar…

Sorry, there is nothing funny about this for those who enter the arena. No jokes to be had. Just years of doing, learning, and risking leading to satisfaction in the mix of life and not for timid souls who neither know victory or defeat or success or failure.

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