In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown cites this passage from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, “Citizenship in a Republic”:
“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 best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”
This week I climbed into the arena: I began my first poetry workshop. Two evenings a week, for the next six weeks, I will join a professor and seven poets to study poetry and critique one another’s work. It is both terrifying and wonderful.
Why on earth would I be terrified of a few poets? Let’s say you want to learn to paint, but you’ve never picked up a paint brush. So you enroll in a painting class. On the first day of class, you plant your easel beside a man with gray, frizzy hair. And then you realize it’s Claude Monet. Wouldn’t you be intimidated? That’s how I feel in my poetry workshop. The other poets have been writing for decades. And here I am, picking up my pen for the first time.
Luckily, they are a gentle, generous group. They are happy to share their wisdom with me and patient with my Poetry 101 questions, like “What exactly are the rules on punctuation?” and “How on earth do I decide where to break lines?” These poor folks should ask for their money back.
As for me, I’m reminded of business school, where I grew accustomed to being the least experienced person in the room. Sitting in a finance class, I was the psychology major in a sea of Wall Street veterans. Do you know what I learned? The least experienced one in the room has the most to gain. When I had a question, all I had to do was ask the person to my right or left. I learned so much from my classmates. I shed my fear of asking for help or admitting I didn’t know the answer. So, in a room of veteran poets, I’m not shy about asking questions or admitting I’m a beginner. If I can survive the Wall Street veterans, I can handle a few poets, right?