The Strenuous Life

“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.”

Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of New York, in a speech to the Hamilton Club in Chicago, April 10, 1899

I used to think that when people talked about Teddy Roosevelt’s embrace of “The Strenuous Life,” it was a reference to his hard-charging approach to hunting, fishing, boxing and the like.

But if you actually read this speech – the title essay in the third volume of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt — what TR is really talking about is embracing the challenges of the 20th Century. He implores the wealthy men of Chicago to not just enjoy their money and leisure time but to do something useful to serve society.

Fifteen years into the century after the one TR asked Americans to not just embrace, but spear like a fish, do his words still resonate? Life is a bit more complicated now, after all.

On the other hand, wealth is a much more relative term. Even those who feel trapped by the shifting labor market are generally able to eat and entertain themselves without too much effort. Is it too much to ask that every one of us do what we can, as much as we’re able, to stay physically and mentally fit so we can  do our part to make the world a better place?

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed,” Roosevelt said. “In this life we get nothing save by effort.”

Just a little something to think about as the weekend approaches.

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