I was not prepared...
A few months ago I went to a leadership retreat. Before arriving I was told to memorize The Man in The Arena speech by Theodore Roosevelt.
I printed the speech out and taped it to the sun-visor in my car. Every time I got behind the wheel, I read it out loud. I practiced several times a day for weeks until I had that 140-word anthem down perfect.
I arrived at the hotel and met the other 18 men who would be joining me on this retreat. We were told to sit down in the hallway with our backs against the wall and remain in complete silence until our name was called.
One by one, the men around me disappeared into the adjoining room until I heard a voice. “Nate Bagley, it’s your turn.”
I stood up and took a deep breath.
I walked through the door and saw a camera, bright lights, 3 dudes who were 6+ feet tall and covered in muscles, and a stage. It was completely silent in the room.
“Before arriving today you were asked to memorize The Man In The Arena. Please stand on the stage, look into the camera, and recite it.”
“No prob, Bob!” I joked, trying to lighten the mood.
Nobody laughed. Sheesh… tough crowd…
I stepped on the stage, stared into the camera and felt a pit in my stomach as began:
“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… because there is no effort without error and shortcoming… uh… can I start over?”
I lost my rhythm. I started to feel frazzled and nervous. I was sweating and I wanted to run away as fast as I could.
“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… crap… I know this... ”
“You’re done. You did not come prepared. Step outside.”
I knew in that moment that the pressure of the situation had gotten to me. I was not prepared as I should have been. I was ushered outside with a handful of other men who had also arrived unprepared.
I had a few minutes to calm my nerves, realize my mistake, practice a few times in my head, and I was eventually invited back into the room where I (to my great relief) recited The Man In The Arena perfectly.
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.
This experience taught me a crazy-important lesson...
Knowing the answers is not the same as knowing the answers under pressure!
Just because I could recite this paragraph while brushing my teeth in front of the bathroom mirror doesn’t mean I could do it on stage with bright lights and a camera pointed at my face. When my context and surroundings changed, I got stupid and forgot my training.
This happens all the time in my marriage… and I’m guessing it happens in yours too.
Why you gotta do that?
You know that nagging won’t make your partner happy. You vow never to nag them again. Then you see those dirty dishes on the coffee table, or the soggy towel on the bedroom floor, and it just comes out! “I’m not your mom! Could you just clean up after yourself for once?!”
You know sex is an important means of connecting physically, spiritually and emotionally. You know that not having sex will erode at your marriage. But after a long and stressful day being hounded by your clients at work, or 12 hours of changing diapers, kissing boo-boos, being poked, prodded, grabbed at and bitten, the last thing you want is to initiate sexy times. “Maybe tomorrow.” And a cloud of guilt and shame settles over you as you try to fall asleep.
You know that holding a grudge will only divide you as a couple. Letting that resentment build only makes you feel ugly things towards your partner. Forgiveness is the only thing keeping you from feeling like you don’t have to walk on eggshells anymore. But it’s so much easier to justify how right you are, and wait for your partner to apologize first. You hold onto your anger and watch your partner emotionally drift further and further away.
You KNOW the right thing to do, but when you’re under pressure YOU DON’T DO IT!
We all fall into this trap.
The Magic Solution
And that’s why I’m so grateful for these words: Can we start over?
My wife first said these words in the first week of our marriage. It’s been repeated more times in my relationship than I’d like to admit. (I screw up a lot). But, what a gift it is.
We pull it out in those moments when we realize we aren’t performing at our best. The moments when the pressure builds and all our practice and good habits fly out the window.
“Can we start over?”
We both take a deep breath and go back to what we know works. Kindness. Compassion. Generosity. Forgiveness.
I love a do-over, a clean slate, or a chance to rectify a mistake.
It’s the same reason I love New Years Day! It’s the one day every year everyone allows themselves a fresh start and a clean slate without any questions. It’s like everyone just agrees, “Can we start over?”
Maybe that’s what we should use Valentine’s Day for. Maybe this holiday should be less about chalk-hearts, and overpriced roses and more about giving ourselves a fresh start with love. Here are some examples:
Hey, you know how I’ve been kind of impatient and ungrateful lately? Let’s use Valentine’s Day as our “Can we start over?” day… I promise to do better.
You’ve probably noticed I’ve been nagging and mothering you a lot lately. I’m sorry. The Valentines Day I’m going to make a commitment to worry less about the little things and focus more on having fun and appreciating you for what you contribute in our family. “Can we start over?”
I know I’ve been emotionally distant and I’ve probably caused you a lot of stress with how little I’ve been present lately. I want to do better. I’m sorry. Can we start over on Valentine’s Day? I know I can do better.
I’ve hated and resented the opposite sex for long enough. I’m done being a victim. This is the year I forgive and find hope that love will come. I’m going to start over.
Valentine’s Day can be super crappy when it’s chocked full of expectations, hype, forced-romance and counterfeit love. Maybe this is a good year to get rid of all that and try something different.
Give yourself a clean slate. A do-over. Prove to the person you love that you can do better this year than you did last year.
Heck yeah! This is something I can get on board with… how 'bout you?
You know it’s time to do better, and NOW is the perfect time to start.
If this is resonating with you - if you’re serious about giving yourself a do-over, I’ll give you a little hint. The only way you will be truly successful when making a big change like this is to you have someone (other than your spouse) in your corner to hold you accountable and show you the way.
For the price of a Chipotle burrito with guac every month, you can be a member of The 1% Club. I’ll send you regular emails, videos, tutorials, and check-ins (just like this one) to make sure you’re leveling up your love game and taking your Valentine’s Day commitment seriously.
This month I’m interviewing Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers, and Dr. Brent Atkinson about sex, shame, and some groundbreaking communication tactics you’ve probably never heard of.
I’ll also be hosting a special live Facebook convo with a special guest who has over 2 MILLION views on her TEDx talk that only 1%’ers can participate in.
I hope your Valentine’s Day inspires change and growth and even better love this year than you had last year.
P.S. I’d love to hear what you think about Valentine’s Day. Do you love it? Hate it? Thin it’s too commercial? Do you celebrate on another day? Do you have plans tomorrow night? Let me know in the comments!
P.P.S. My wife and I are doing an experiment I’m excited to tell you about next week... make sure you subscribe to the newsletter so you don' miss out!