This week I received an interesting call from a small business owner who needs some help getting sponsors for a poetry project. Separately I spoke with a friend’s daughter who is graduating from college next month and is dealing with the “what do I do now” syndrome. Those two quite different conversations struck a common cord with me regarding what we all have to do if we are to live a life that resembles our dreams of success. We have to be ready to step into the middle of it all with some decisive action and risk taking every day.

I confess that thinking about things and analyzing situations comes easily to me. It’s comfortable, but that is a bit like using a rocking chair. No matter how enthusiastic and good I am at rocking or how long I do it, I get nowhere until I leave the comfort of the chair. It is all about heeding the call to action. About fifteen years ago I read a memorable speech from President Teddy Roosevelt that he delivered one hundred years ago in Paris on the subject of citizenship in a Republic. That speech has long been best known as “The man in the arena” address. Its lesson is for men and women, but that’s how the word was used at the time. One of the reasons I’m devoting this phase of my life to encouraging and supporting business owners and entrepreneurs is that most of them live the life that Teddy Roosevelt describes. Here is an excerpt from his remarks.

“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.”

Two of the dominant aspects of American life these days, media and politics often seem to ignore the truth spoken by President Roosevelt. The media business is home to a surplus of critics and politicians specialize in telling voters they can have everything with little or no pain. By teaching generations of young people to seek safety and predictability above all else we’ve led them into “knowing neither victory nor defeat.” The young lady I spoke to who is graduating next month is now asking her parents to fork over another $25K so that she can attend culinary school because she may want to be a chef or even a restaurant owner! Well, that business certainly isn’t safe or predictable but remaining in school would seem to be that. Her parents have now helped her secure a low level kitchen job in a nice restaurant, thereby putting her “into the arena.” She’ll find out quickly if she likes the relentless pressures of professional cooking and if so, she’ll earn a chunk of the tuition money.

The woman who called me to help find a sponsor for her public access cable show focusing on poets brought a nice challenge. It turns out that she was expecting me to identify approach and close deals with sponsors. She didn’t want to go anywhere near the arena of knocking on doors or “dialing for dollars.” I offered to share my knowledge in sales and even to share our presentations and techniques with her while being clear that she may not get where she wants to go without putting her mind and body deeply into the process and to “strive valiantly.”

This is the time of year when thousands of young people are graduating from schools with high hopes. One of those hopes is that someone will figuratively lead them to water, hand them a cup and allow them to drink all they want! You and I know that it most likely won’t happen that way. One of my favorite inspirational characters was the Chicago insurance tycoon W. Clement Stone who said “No matter how carefully you plan your goals they will never be more than pipe dreams unless you pursue them with gusto.” That is your call to action.

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