In the Arena

Posted by Scott Jones on Apr 1, 2020 4:55:00 PM

One of my favorite quotes/speeches comes from our 26th President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt.  His “man in the arena” speech was given after he left the Presidency in 1910 during a visit to Paris.  It is too long to recite in its entirety here, but it begins like this:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of good 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….”

Portrait courtesy of iStock/ilbusca
Antique photograph: Theodore Roosevelt

In his speech, Roosevelt spoke up against cynics that looked down at men that were simply trying to make the world a better place.  He ended his speech with these words, speaking of those in the arena:

“who at 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 or defeat.”

One of the reasons I love my job in sales is related to the theme of Roosevelt’s great quote – It’s being “in the arena”.  Not to sound too idealistic, but when we get into our car or hop on an airplane and head out to visit a customer or attend a trade show or convention, we are “in the arena”.  We are risking failure, betting on ourselves to win - sometimes against long odds - and challenging ourselves to use our skills and training to influence our customers in a positive way.

The health crisis we all find ourselves in the middle of right now is scary and unsettling.  First and foremost, we must take care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors.  As citizens, I am sure President Roosevelt would be sending us the same message our political leaders are sending us today – stay home and do your part to stop the risk of spreading this virus.  In fact, it was only eight years after his “in the arena” speech that the world faced a similar pandemic to what we face now – the Spanish Flu, which killed an estimated staggering 50 million people worldwide from 1918 to 1920.

So, while we stay home and do our part to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, I am sure you all feel a little like me - out of our arena.  I looked at my calendar today and saw something that I have never seen, blankness.  For almost 31 years I was taught and then expected to plan my schedule at least one month in advance, with travel plans made, appointments set, and goals and objectives written down.  Suddenly, I have no where to go.  If I have nowhere to go as a sales representative, does that mean I have nothing to do?  If you have nowhere to go, no matter the type of work you do, does that mean you have nothing to do? It is critical that we work together as a country to make sure that the answer to this question is a resounding “NO!”.  Instead of focusing on what we can’t do, let’s instead focus on what we can:

  • We cannot visit a customer and sit across the table and talk products, but we can call and do the same thing. And when we call, show that we and our companies care about how they are doing and ask what we can do to help.
  • We cannot make shared end-user calls with you, but we can reach out to our mutual customers via joint emails, sending them educational product resources such as videos and literature.
  • We cannot schedule onsite training with our customers for an early morning next week and pick up donuts or bagels on the way over, but we can work together to schedule a webex or Google Hangouts virtual training on Dixon products with the same group (and even send them a coupon for Dunkin Donuts!).
  • We cannot make an in-person sales call or complete an in-person sale, but we can coordinate with our teams and sharpen the saw on our selling techniques, so that when we are back to our normal business activities, we are in a better position to succeed.
  • We cannot learn about products and applications “on the job” while in the field, but we can work together to learn about Dixon training opportunities and schedule a future in-person Hose Coupling Workshop, SRS Workshop, or SRC Workshop.
  • We cannot attend trade shows, but we can send handwritten notes to the customers we were intending to network with and let them know we are thinking about them during this crisis and share an inspiring quote or other words of encouragement.
  • We cannot spend time socializing with our customers and building stronger relationships, but we can take advantage of more home office time to work on building relationships through regular communication with our internal customers – the support staff that helps us be successful in our jobs.

With the correct mindset, we can overcome our anxiety and depression over not being “in the arena” as we have always known it.  We can still be in the arena – we just need to change where that arena is located, temporarily.  In the middle of Roosevelt’s speech, he uses these words to describe the noble people who choose to be in the arena:

“… but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause…”

Let’s all buy into the fact that we have a worthy cause and can be devoted to striving to do the best we can.  Maybe the arena does not have to be in a car, or on an airplane, or around a conference room table at a customer’s place of business?  At least it does not have to be in one of those places right now.  Let’s make “our arena” our desk or kitchen table, the telephone, the computer, and in conversations with your teammates about how we can win during this crisis.  Being a professional means being able to adapt to a changing environment.  We never expected it to ever change this drastically, but let’s resolve to make our temporary new arena one in which we look back months from now and say, “we won in that place!”. 

Stay safe.  Stay healthy.  Stay in the arena.

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