Alfred Lord Tennyson, arguably the greatest of the British poets of the 19th century, published his first book of poetry in 1833. He expected a good review. Instead, the critics severely mauled his work. According to his biographer, Tennyson was so deeply upset by this adverse criticism that it would be ten years before he would publish another volume. When he finally overcame his fear of criticism and found the courage to publish again, Tennyson started down a pathway that would ultimately lead him to national fame and to the position of Poet Laureate of England for over 40 years. And he learned a lesson that we need to learn today: There is no short-cut to anything worth having.
We will always have our critics. Moses did. King David did. The Apostle Paul did. Even Jesus did. All of the great leaders in biblical history had their critics and consequently had to move around those who stood in their way.
Two of America’s greatest presidents were haunted by their critics. Abraham Lincoln’s critics scornfully referred to him as “that big baboon.” And when Franklin D. Roosevelt was at the height of his power, his enemies would not even use his name. They would simply refer to “that man in the White House.” Yet both presidents transitioned our nation from war to peace, and both appear on most historians’ lists as among our greatest presidents.
If Alfred Lord Tennyson and Moses and David and Paul and Jesus and Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt had their critics – why do we think everyone will willingly line up behind us with unquestioned loyalty? And why do we think that reaching our goals will be easy?
“A great deal of talent is lost in this world,” says one wise man of the past, “for want of a little courage.” He’s right. The courage to move forward even in the face of criticism is an essential ingredient in living effectively in today’s world.
In the three decades before the Civil War, James Louis Petigru became the dean of the South Carolina bar and was one of Charleston's leading citizens. This epitaph was chiseled on his gravestone: “Unawed by opinion, unseduced by flattery, undismayed by disaster, he confronted life with courage.” Leaders today must display that same kind of courage – the courage to believe when everyone else questions what we are doing, the courage to move forward even when our reputation is on the line, the courage to refuse to be sidetracked by those who want to rehash past grievances. We must have the courage to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and in the way it needed to be done. We must have the courage to act.
Here are some quotes that support this affirmation that there is no shortcut to anything worth having.
In his memoir, actor Michael J. Fox concluded: “If I had learned anything over the last four years, it was this: whatever anyone else thinks about me is none of my business.”
William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army followed this battle cry throughout the ups and downs of his ministry: “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight. While little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight. While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight. While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight. I’ll fight to the very end.”
Famous writer Og Mandino, in his best selling book The Greatest Success in the World, expressed this conviction: “Remind thyself, in the darkest moments, that every failure is only a step toward success, every detection of what is false directs you toward what is true, every trial exhausts some tempting form of error, and every adversity will only hide, for a time, your path to peace and fulfillment.”
J. C. Penney who founded the chain of stores that go by his name, explained: “I would never have amounted to anything were it not for adversity. I was forced to come up the hard way.”
So how should we respond to this affirmation that “there is no short cut to anything worth having?
First, we need to be realistic. We need to realize that no one will escape criticism and opposition as they reach for their goal.
Second, we need to be resilient. We need to be able to rise above the opposition and continue to move toward your goal.
And finally, we need to be resolute. We need to keep our eyes on our goal and reach out for it with courage.
Here’s a thought to keep in mind. If no one is criticizing us and no opposition appears on the horizon, we are probably not doing anything worthwhile.