Arena thinking

A great entrepreneur I look up to and friend of mine was recently covered by one of the largest mainstream newspapers in her country. She received a lot of hate and negativity from the audience, something all too common for mainstream news.

It triggered me to think more as the conversation led on to talking about stopping to engage in any of these kinds of interviews and coverage. When really, what you want is exactly the opposite – more of this. More coverage, more exposure, more being talked about. The key is to understand where the criticism is coming from, and how to look past it. The key is to understand who is in the arena and who is just a spectator.

To achieve this, a humble learning that has greatly helped me is to adopt a different kind of thinking. I’d like to call it arena thinking. It is most likely best described by Roosevelt’s famous quote:

“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.”

Whenever you read this quote, you’ll be reminded that the critic, no matter if positive or negative mind you, should have no impact whatsoever over the effort you are taking.

What happens when you put yourself into the arena

It is very hard to prepare yourself for when you are entering the arena. We all do it. Whenever we do simple things, like giving a presentations in class, for a small group of people or bigger things, like speaking in a stadium filled with hundreds of thousands. Whether we build a business, write a book or compete in the Olympics or in your local club. It doesn’t matter. Whenever you present yourself, whenever you put yourself out there, you are entering the arena.

When you enter the arena, it gets almost instantly filled with spectators. Some cheer you on, some boo you out, some just leave.

The instant question is, so what do you do then? Where do you turn? Where will you find support if you are exposed, standing in the arena and becoming the target for love, hate, ignorance or whatever spectators throw at you?

What I’ve found is that the only place you can turn to are other people also in the arena with you. In the example of running a startup, with you in the arena are two types of people:Customers, stakeholders, influencers in your spaceExperienced, other entrepreneurs – people with significant expertise of standing and playing in the arena.

According to Seth Godin, these are the only people entitled to an opinion, that you should pay attention to. These are the kinds of people, you might want to aim and engage with and become friends with.

It is these people – others who stand with you in the arena that can help you, push you forward and bring you to where you want to be. In my experience, nothing is more important than to look after the people you spend time with.

Finding and making friends with others in the arena

What you’ve probably quickly noticed already are the conversation with people who are in the arena with you.  They are distinctly different.

People who are with you, they don’t think about criticism, good or bad, because they are no spectators. They aren’t looking for entertainment in any form. All they care about is progress, because they are in there with you, in one way or another. They depend on you, or you depend on them, regardless, progress and effort is the only thing that will be of interest to them. And that’s powerful.

What I’ve found is that it can be quite difficult to adopt this kind of thinking, especially with people outside the area you are operating in. It is much harder to appreciate the effort for a photographer or ballet dancer, than it is for a fellow successful entrepreneur for me. Yet the most successful people manage to do exactly that, whichever event they come across, they appreciate the effort into achieving or failing first.

Once you can quickly identify between arena thinkers and spectators thinkers, it’ll be easy to know which conversations to take forward and which ones to let trickle out.

Seek out these people and pick up every chance you can to be in the arena yourself, instead of on the spectator seats. It is arena thinkers that will be the ones that drive you forward.

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