Teddy Roosevelt guitar practice

Theodore Roosevelt – “The Man in the Arena” and Our Own Inner Critics

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Enjoy!

“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.”

Theodore Roosevelt

On the surface, there are two characters in this scenario. And we can reflect upon ourselves from the perspective of either.

We can note when we’re the critic – pointing out errors and shortcomings in others. This feels good, because criticizing implies we know something. We temporarily inflate when we point out the shortcomings of others.

And we can take strength from knowing that we are the one “in the arena”. We can remember that our struggles are valiant. We can feel good knowing we’re giving it our all.

But we can also delve a little deeper. When we do, we realize that we are both in the arena, and standing on the sidelines condemning our own efforts.

We are very often our own worst critic. And this is one of the biggest struggles we face. There are no voices louder and more pervasive than the ones in our own heads.

To do anything difficult over time (such as learning to play guitar), we must learn to believe that our inner critic does not speak absolute truths. It simply offers one perspective.

With practice, we can stop reacting to our inner critic with emotion. And we can instead use the criticism as information. We can use it to help guide our efforts.

A powerful leader will listen to many advisors then act from a place of personal conviction. We can do the same.

Our inner critic is one advisor among many, commenting on our stronger self – the brave one “in the arena”.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

Allen: Just wanted you to know I have thoroughly enjoyed The Woodshed program. I'm in Level 1C and love how every part works together. It has improved my "general" playing already.


~ Lydia Chance

-Lydia Chance

I think the program levels are a great way to teach the guitar. I have had several teachers over the past few years and none came close to the structured organization that you have put together.


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-Peter Marior

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