If You Aren’t In The Arena, Where Are You?

Your best life awaits you in the arena.

The life of your dreams and of your destiny. The life you long to live. The life that calls out to you. The life that fills you up and flows out to others. Maybe you’re like me and haven’t always lived in the arena. Maybe you aren’t living in it now. You’re close, but not quite there….at least not yet. Here’s a question that is worth exploring.

If you aren’t in the arena, where are you?

Here are a few places I’ve visited — all of which were connected to the arena…close to the center of the action, but all of these kept me out of the action.

The first one is obvious. It’s the one Teddy Roosevelt contrasted in his inspiring speech that we now know as The Man in the Arena speech. When he first delivered it in France, he called it Citizenship in a Republic — neither sexy nor tweet-worthy. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting in the best box seat in the arena, the front row of the 50-yard line, or the back row of the nosebleed section in the cheap seats — take any of those seats and you’re still a spectator.

Life is not a spectator sport. It’s lived in the arena.

But there are other places in, or near, the stadium that still isn’t in the arena.

The Parking Lot — you might have gotten stuck in traffic, or were having so much fun at the tailgate party that you stayed in the parking lot. Maybe you didn’t have a ticket and were hoping to score admittance to the big game. Whatever the reason, if you’re in the parking, you’re not in the arena.

The Locker Room — this is where players go when they have been injured or disabled. They were in the arena, but something happened that sought to take them out of the game. Now they are in the locker room with the trainers or physicians trying to convince them, or maybe themselves, that they are fit enough to return to the arena.

The Press Box — that’s where the reporters sit and cover the game. It doesn’t matter whether they are covering the game for the local newspaper, regional radio, or national television. They may have celebrity status for their commentary and may have been a star of the past, but for now, they are NOT in the arena. They get to report the action, give you the play-by-play of the action…but they are not PART of the action.

The Bench — on the bench is a bunch of players who are part of the team. They have participated in the practices and they are dressed out for the big game and simply waiting for the coach to hear their prayers, “Put me in coach, I’m ready!”

The Penalty Box is reserved for those who were in the arena but either didn’t follow the rules and are suspended from action for some period of time. They might have been overzealous or perhaps thought they could get ahead by cutting corners or taking a cheap shot at an opponent. No matter how desperately they want to get back in the game, for now, they have to sit it out and await your turn.

Where are YOU now? At this very moment?

Are you in the arena? You may not be playing your best, you may be getting beat severely. You may be bloody, battered, and beat-down…but at least you are in the arena.

  • If you are in the stands as a spectator,
  • Maybe you’re in the locker room nursing your wounds from failed efforts or injuries sustained in the arena,
  • Perhaps you’re in the press box covering the achievements of others,
  • You might be in the parking lot partying away, still enjoying the pre-game
  • Or on the bench hoping your time will come, or maybe
  • You are stuck paying your dues in the penalty box.

One thing is clear if you are in any of these places, YOU ARE NOT IN THE ARENA.

Take it from someone who has occupied all of those positions at one time or another. It’s better in the arena.

Even if the arena of your life seems so small that no will ever notice if you’re in the arena or on the sidelines. It matters. To you. To others. To all of us.  Your best life awaits you in the arena. Don’t let whatever is keeping you out of the arena keep you sidelined from life. Your best life.

Make 2020 the year you occupy the arena and together let’s make the 2020s a Decade of Difference. 


Kevin Monroe
Kevin Monroe
Kevin Monroe helps people flourish on the road less traveled in business, leadership, and life so they make their dent in the universe. Since he was a teenager, he has usually chosen roads less traveled which usually involve going against the grain and seeking to go with the flow. All in hopes of making the world a better place and inspiring others to do the same. His unique contribution to the world is creating environments, hosting encounters, and crafting experiences where people are inspired, equipped, and encouraged to live, love, and lead in extraordinary ways. He hosts a variety of events and experiences designed to do just that including; the Higher Purpose Podcast, The Gratitude Challenge, This ExtraOrdinary Life, and most recently, The League of Extraordinary Difference Makers. Kevin holds a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University and an undergraduate degree in theology from Mercer University. He lives in Woodstock, GA with his lovely wife, Gwen. They are the parents of two adult children and one precocious granddaughter, Emma.

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  1. Wow… this is such a great analogy, Kevin! It’s been awhile since I read that entire “arena speech” by Roosevelt and for those who may not be familiar…

    “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.”

    I wrote about this within the context of Brene Brown a while back, but you put it in an entirely different light. Thank you!!

    • Thanks, Melissa. As a collector of quotations, I was familiar with Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech before Brene Brown’s book. However, her book only fueled my appreciation for Roosevelt’s powerful message and beautiful imagery. Thanks for your kind comments.

  2. Kevin, I love this piece. Thank you for sharing your insights with us, and for putting some encouragement out there as we welcome a new year into our lives. However, you had me at the title of this article. I have an excerpt from Roosevelt’s speech pinned up on the inspiration board in my office. It sits at eye level, so all I need to do is glance over and let the words carry me. I have to thank Brene Brown, however, because in reading her work, it nudged me to start the board and include Roosevelt’s arena excerpt – along with some words of wisdom from Brene Brown also.

    Your closing remarks are powerful and inspiring, Kevin: “Even if the arena of your life seems so small that no will ever notice if you’re in the arena or on the sidelines. It matters. To you. To others. To all of us. Your best life awaits you in the arena. Don’t let whatever is keeping you out of the arena keep you sidelined from life. Your best life.” Thank you for these words, Kevin, and the explicit encouragement that lies within them. I do feel like the arena of my life is small, but this morning something happened that reminded me size doesn’t matter. What matters is we try. And in trying, we might inspire someone else along the way. Thanks for inspiring me.

    • Laura — your response to this post inspires me and fuels my passion to write. It is ALL ABOUT connection, inspiration, and encouragement. I’d love to hear more about what happened today that reminded you that the size of your arena doesn’t matter — what matters is that you are active and seize the opportunities. I’ve reached out to connect on LinkedIn. I’m grateful to have inspired you to be a difference-maker!

  3. Kevin this was a spot-on read that offers much to ponder. You conveyed your message in a creative, thoughtful, and gentle manner. If one is not in the arena for whatever reasons – it feels like a space that is worth exploring after taking in your words. Thank you!

    • Maureen, I am grateful for you engaging — first by reading and then responding. I hope the post does inspire people to live their best life.

  4. Thanks Kevin for teeing up your imaginal landscape, the arena. Your in-out model aligns with the operative user models for culture creation high technology. “In it to win it..”

    Some people work ownership excellence approaches, though. These people own the franchises as well as their venues; they license “all of that (IP/R),” including concessions, demand-supply webs, etc., the imaginal scapes for which are as numerous as the stars above. For these owners, arenas are cultural economies, even eco-entertainment akin to fishing and trekking. For them, excellence starts as culture creation.

    • Thank you, Kimberly. Bringing “truth into technicolor” is quite the compliment. Thanks for reading and responding.

  5. Thank you for this encouragement to “be in the arena.” Kevin. Your essay reminds me very much of Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, which is based on her research about shame and vulnerability, judgment, compassion, and wholehearted living. I would offer that all those places you describe are the “arena” because even in the locker room we have an opportunity to be our essential selves-our compassionate selves with the people we meet there. Life is the arena and each person we encounter-whether at the grocery store, a business networking event, the house of a client, at home with family members-all opportunities to bring a witness consciousness, a deep awareness and outward focus on love and service to others, a profound Paying Attention beyond an agenda, self-absorption, or harsh judgments. Whether a person is in solitude deeply reflecting, behind closed doors writing from his heart and experiences, or interacting with strangers from kindness she is in the arena of life.

    What keeps us separate from one another includes criticism, self-loathing, comparisons, unhealed shame, limited thinking from unexamined beliefs, betrayals, lack of trust, abandonment of self, sense of unworthiness, sense of entitlement, all the stuff of the terrified or traumatized victim self that keeps people out of the arena of their souls, outside the arena of their vulnerability, their failures, and the humanity they share with so many others. The protected and cloaked hearts keep them at a distance from people in all those places and spaces. Living open-hearted and aware, vulnerable and brave, people are in the arena no matter where they are.

    I did some of my deepest transformative, spiritual awakenings at 14 years old when I was placed in solitary confinement for two months in a hospital after telling the truth to church camp officials about the rape of my tent mate that I had witnessed. I was drugged that night at dinner time, experienced a “breakdown”(which I remember vividly to this day) prior to being taken to the hospital by my parents, who did not know what else to do. This time period remains pivotal, one of the most profound awakenings of my life. I most definitely was in “the arena.” There is no doubt in my mind, heart, or soul and no one will ever convince me of anything else.

    Thank you for being open to this very different point of view than the one you’ve offered.

    • Laura, I hope I’m always open to different points of view. You definitely were “in the arena”. I am sorry that happened and know it had to be a life-shaping encounter.