Gerry ChidiacIt’s a myth to think we’re only successful if we achieve our goals. The key to happiness is not only to have goals that are significant to us, but to dare greatly to achieve them.

Former American president Theodore Roosevelt said: “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.”

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With this approach to life, there really is no such thing as failure. Each time we don’t achieve the desired outcome, we learn something. We go back to the proverbial drawing board knowing much more than we did on our previous attempt.

Roosevelt also points out the insignificance of the critic. How sad it is to project our fears onto others, and lack the courage to face the challenges and opportunities that lie within our grasp.

There’s a vast difference between critiquing and being a mindless critic. Diversity of ideas leads to better solutions. The quest for truth is a lifelong journey and no one knows all the answers.

A critic says, “You’re an idiot and that’s a stupid idea.”

The diverse thinker says, “I hear what you’re saying but have you ever considered looking at the issue this way?”

Roosevelt made many mistakes. Given his core values, however, he wouldn’t have an issue with us pointing them out and learning from them as we try to create a future that’s better than our past.

For the person in the arena, it takes tremendous confidence and integrity to listen to constructive criticism. It also takes wisdom to distinguish between useful information and unfounded nonsense.

As a teacher, I know how important it is to foster an environment where one can strive valiantly in the classroom. I need to create an atmosphere where students are not only free to challenge my ideas, but where they’re also free to learn and grow.

One of the key points I make in my language classes, for example, is that you can’t learn another language unless you’re willing to make mistakes. Language is such a complex tool for communication and expression that one couldn’t simply memorize all of the possible sentences. Making mistakes and correcting them is a vital part of the learning process. This requires humility, courage, determination and effort.

Perhaps this is why I find working with so-called at-risk students so inspiring. School isn’t easy for them, yet they show up every day and give it their best shot. The most important thing I can do for them is to simply recognize their effort and cheer them on.

People don’t stumble because they’re weak. People who find themselves in the winner’s circle of life aren’t necessarily the greatest among us. The great are those who strive valiantly, those who are willing to learn from their mistakes and try again.

These are the people who can one day look back on life and say, “Wow!  That was an awesome journey!”

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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