Written by Kimberly Mihayo – iX Coding ’14, Harvard
One of my all-time favorite quotes is this one, by 26th US president Theodore Roosevelt, from a speech he delivered on April 23, 1910 sometimes referred to as, “The Man in the Arena”:
“It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or how the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face marred by dust, sweat, and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs to come short and short again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. It is the man who actually strives to do the deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm and knows the great devotion, who spends himself on a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the triumph of great achievement. And, who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and cruel souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
This quote always strongly evokes to me the image of the man (or woman) in the arena – this physical or existential stage where they will be tested, forced to face a challenge, or to conquer their greatest fears. The arena is ourselves, whenever we choose to step into situations that, as author Brené Brown puts it, “define what it means to be vulnerable.” Where we stand to face uncertainty, risks, challenges or emotional exposure. Oftentimes, many critics will accompany this arena. These are people who will be quick to judge our boldness, criticize our effort, or tell us that this challenge we’re about to take on is not worth it. These critics are also ourselves, or the voices we sometimes have in our heads whenever we choose to step out of our comfort zones.
The 8 weeks I spent at IXperience embodied, at times, the feeling and imagery of being in the arena. The first few weeks of learning how to program were difficult, challenging and made me feel like I didn’t belong. I wanted to give up, but part of me understood that, being in the arena was never going to be easy or comfortable. I understood that, I could be comfortable with feeling like things were uncomfortable, difficult, and even impossible. I had to silence the critic in my head and trust that this would be worth it in the end. That going through this course would only make me feel comfortable taking risks, trying new things and exploring my interests.
By the end of the course, I ended up contributing toward building Insight, a health application that addressed the issue of transparency in the Western Cape health system. Our application helps health workers report shortages of medical supplies or services in their area and creates a platform where respondents can be informed and are enabled to act.
I was amazed at all I was able to learn, and I was glad that I’d not let my inner critic get the best of me.
Something really great happens when we allow ourselves to step into the arena. We allow ourselves to “dare greatly” and engage with experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives. At IXperience, we were forced to dare greatly by not just learning how to code, but in exploring all that Cape Town has to offer. Whether it’s hiking to the peak of Lion’s Head, going Shark-cage diving or interning at a tech startup, we are continuously challenged to step into the arena and out of our comfort zones. While doing this may mean sometimes experiencing fear, discomfort or disappointment, we must trust that we’re all the better for it. Because when we step back and look at our lives, we will find that nothing is as uncomfortable, risky or disappointing as standing on the outside looking in and wondering what it would be like if we had to the courage to step into the arena.