Iesha Small

writing, career pivots, side hustles

Build you career like an entrepreneur.

Screw the critic. Get in the arena.

You need to earn the right to give critique.

“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”

Theodore Roosevelt. April 23, 1910. “Citizenship in a Republic” speech at the Sorbonne in Paris, France

I am terrible at remembering quotes but I have remembered “It is not the critic who counts…” since first hearing it a few years ago during an interview between the photographer and entrepreneur  Chase Jarvis and the writer and researcher Dr Brené Brown.  Dr Brown references the quote in the interview (8:00- 9:00) and in the title of her book Daring Greatly. Here she specifically talks to a creative audience of photographers, writers and directors about how they should accept criticism, not just from anybody but from people who are doing their own creative work or trying to improve in a similar field and actually know what they are talking about.

Solutions and action are hard

It is easy to criticize. Anybody who has lead teams or line managed people knows this and has probably been on the receiving end. It’s much harder to offer solutions and even harder to initiate or join forces to implement positive change.

It is easy to criticize. Anybody who has lead teams or line managed people knows this and has probably been on the receiving end. Share on X

Before I wrote a book I had no idea how hard it would be (that’s probably why I agreed). Now after late nights, early mornings, lunch times spent writing and extended periods of no social life, I do.  As a result, when I read, listen to or experience a piece of art that doesn’t resonate with me but that I can tell has had somebody’s heart and soul poured into it I still have respect for the artist.  I know what it takes and how exposing it can be to create something and release it into the world ready for other people’s comments.

Running my mouth

On this blog and elsewhere I have written extensively about education and leadership because these are areas that I have expertise and experience in, I have been in the arena teaching and leading in schools in challenging circumstances and my experiences have shaped me. More recently I have written about the charity and non-profit sector because my experiences at a think tank and in my wider personal and creative life have bought me into contact with various organisations in the third sector trying to do good.

I’ve poured scorn on lack of access to the arts and some non-profits for members of “hard to reach” communities and compared some charities to big pharmaceuticals for, in my view, encouraging a model of dependency. Sometimes I’ve offered solutions, other times I’ve written to help me think and to provoke thought and debate amongst wider sector colleagues (thanks, as always, to those of you who email me to offer your own views).

Time to make things happen

Well now it looks like I’ll have to put my money where my mouth is.

This month I start as Head of Strategy at YHA, a large national charity. It’s a 6 month secondment and I still don’t know how to explain what this means to our 8 and 5 year olds. However, when asked recently by an adult I gave this answer:

I’ll be responsible for strategically making adventure and nature accessible to all (especially young people and under represented groups) via amazing properties and experiences in spectacular places. I’ve a personal interest in the mental health benefits too.

I love the outdoors, in fact being in nature is essentialfor me. Additionally, improving outcomes for young people in all areas of their lives has been important to me for almost all my adult life. So when the opportunity arose to work closely on the implementation of a new strategy that has an inspiring vision I knew I had to jump into the arena

To significantly enrich the lives of all, especially young people, through the provision of brilliant hostel stays and experience.- YHA mission

Wish me luck.

Now go and jump into your own arena to work on what matters to you.


If you are a school leader interested in the human side of leadership then my book The Unexpected Leader is for you. Read a sample and if you like it then order on Amazon.

Enjoyed reading this blog post? Subscribe for future ones  you’ll also get a free copy of my ‘9 Lessons for unexpected leaders’ pdf.

Screw the critic. Get in the arena.