Theodore Roosevelt could have had an ‘easy’ life- he was born into wealth, and had a constitution that would have excused himself from hard labor and physical toil. But he chose differently. He chose to have a hard, challenging life.
In doing so, he overcame health problems (crippling asthama attacks and other disorders) and staggering personal loss (his wife and mother died within twenty four hours of each other and his father, whom he much admired died a few years earlier while TR was in college).
- Rather than ‘rest’ to ‘cure’ his asthama, he became a rancher in the harsh Dakota country.
- Rather then live off his wealth, he earned his keep writing books – over thirty in his life-time.
- Rather than use his influence for personal gain, he, like his father and many of the old elite, used to for public good. (in sharp contrast to today’s elite).
- When he advocated war, he was the first to volunteer.
He was often laughed at and mocked, especially early in his political career. His Harvard accent, high pitched voice and ‘dandyish’ appearance were met with riotous laughter on the New York assembly floor. But he kept speaking, kept doing, and kept striving. Who remembers his critics today?
Today, we use the word “strain’ and “strenuous” as something to largely be avoided. When Theodore Roosevelt, however, challenge to an audience to not seek ease and comfort but the ‘strenuous life” was met with thunderous applause, and his words were reprinted in newspapers of every major European and North American city. The speech remains in print today, and is a perennial favorite.
I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.
” A life of slothful ease, a life of that peace which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things, is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual.”
“We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life. It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
“Let us therefore boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully; resolute to uphold righteousness by deed and by word; resolute to be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practical methods. ”
“When men fear work or fear righteous war, when women fear motherhood, they tremble on the brink of doom;”
It’s interesting that most of the focus of advertising is to make life easier – less stressful, less work -and often our idle dreams are of the ‘easy life’… but does that make us happier?
Towards the end of his life he said to his wife “I told myself I would give it everything I got from twenty-one to sixty.
He certainly did.
The full text of the speech can be found here.