Choose the Strenuous Life

Chaos and slothful tendencies lead to a distracted, unorganized life.

If we aren’t willing to put in the hard work necessary for success, then we will never accomplish anything meaningful. Years will pass, accomplishments will be scarce.

Maybe this is the kind of life we truly desire.

The easy life – one filled with Xbox, Netflix, couch, and sleep.

Or maybe we don’t.

Maybe we want more out of life.

A sense of fulfillment.

The satisfaction of hard work and the accomplishments that go with it.

Enter Teddy Roosevelt, the President of the unofficial “Alpha Male Club of Presidents,” and champion of the strenuous life mentality.

A few years ago, I wrote an article on why Roosevelt was a bad-ass dude – a man who never shied away from struggle and who wholeheartedly believed in the virtues of strength, honor, self-discipline, and hard work.

Roosevelt on the Strenuous Life

Much has been written about (and by) Roosevelt, but I was particularly impressed by a short collection of Roosevelt’s speeches and essays titled “The Strenuous Life;” filled with bombastic, masculine dialogue championing work ethic and strength of character as the pillars of American strength.

In this article, I’m going to summarize several of the passages that show the brilliance and articulation of Roosevelt. This book is cheap and a quick 100 pages, so I highly recommend it.

On Hard Work & Character

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

This quote relates to a common theme on SP; the importance of living a fulfilling life, and not one filled with waste, neglect, and passiveness. To simply exist is a travesty.

Roosevelt laments those who live in the “gray twilight,” men who go through the motions of life, never achieving, never living a life of purpose. Each day brings countless possibilities. Small decisions snowball into a vision – a concrete plan for how we want our lives to go.

We have to decide; do we want to learn and grow? If so, we must accept failure as a catalyst for change, to achieve “glorious triumphs.”

Embracing trial and error is the secret sauce for success. We must not be deterred by obstacles, but instead we must embrace them with an understanding that each obstacle we face allows us to improve upon our ideas and tactics. With every challenge we are able to overcome, we become more resilient and versatile.

Creative thoughts are sparked. Questions are asked. New ideas are formed. We become mental machines.

If we live a tepid life of safe moves and boring days, what are we left with? Shame and regret.

We have a given problem to solve. If we undertake the solution, there is, of course, always danger that we may not solve it aright; but to refuse to undertake the solution simply renders it certain that we cannot possibly solve it aright.

Obstacles suck.

They are time consuming and usually come out of nowhere. They make us feel demoralized and trapped. They might even be painful and make us upset and frustrated. There is a chance we can’t overcome the problem, and must accept it as is and move on.

However, doing nothing, and accepting a powerless mentality, has catastrophic consequences. We are embracing the victim’s mentality, fearful of taking action and blaming the world around us for our shortcomings.

Nothing is worse than lacking the willpower and energy to deal with challenges and stumbling blocks. We must embrace challenges and obstacles, and remember that each opportunity helps to build and propel us forward. Never give in to failure.

If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world. 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.

Roosevelt often spoke about America as a rising world power. He was a proud nationalist, believing the American people to be the strongest in the world, able to overcome anything thrown their way. He was adamant that the spirit of the people would propel the country forward as an undisputed economic and military juggernaut.

He championed the virtues of hard work, honesty, intellect, masculinity, and solid character.

In the above excerpt, Roosevelt is chastising “slothful ease,” a mentality that would make America look weak as a nation. Roosevelt was a practical man who championed rational thoughts. He knew sacrifices must be made for the greater good, including the loss of life, but he made his point clear; to sit on the sidelines would mean costly damage to our reputation. America needed to always show resolve and strength in the face of adversity.

This applies to the present day just the same.

If we collectively joined together to work towards a higher purpose, there is no telling the kinds of accomplishments we could achieve. If we turned our obsessive social media addiction into a collation of hungry, and inquisitive minds, the future would be limitless. We must find a way to embrace the characteristics and virtues that defined America at the turn of the 19th century. Too many intelligent people go to waste working a job they don;t care about, doing a function that sparks no creative thought. It’s time for that to change, to work together on meaningful work that has a chance to contribute to our future.

But, in the long run, in the great battle of life, no brilliancy of intellect, no perfection of bodily development, will count when weighed in the balance against that assemblage of virtues, active and passive, of moral qualities, which we group together under the name of character; and if between any two contestants, even in college sport or in college work, the difference in character on the right side is as great as the difference of intellect or strength the other way, it is the character side that will win.

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Roosevelt believed that doing the work and reaping the rewards was enough, that there was no need for braggarts. The character of a man was a trait held in high esteem by Roosevelt.

We can be perfect in many ways, but if we lack character, does it really matter?

Perhaps there is no more important component of character than steadfast resolution. The boy who is going to make a great man, or is going to count in any way in after life, must make up his mind not merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses or defeats. He may be able to wrest success along the lines on which he originally started. He may have to try something entirely new.

Every obstacle breeds an opportunity.

The same holds true for defeats.

When life knocks us down, we need to immediately say, “how can I use this to my advantage?”

Roosevelt on the Strenuous Life

Choosing to see the silver lining in everything is a choice, but it does not come naturally. We must work on it. Cultivate it. Rising from failure and pressing on is not a natural instinct of ours, but one that is sharpened and willed.

Sometimes life will not go our way. It is up to us to improvise, to find another way, to accept temporary defeat for long-term improvement. Our frame in life is our beacon of success; will we give up easy at the first sign of resistance, or use the setback as a teaching moment, propelling us forward? The choice is ours alone.

On Masculinity

He must not be a coward or a weakling, a bully, a shirk, or a prig. He must work hard and play hard. He must be clean-minded and clean-lived, and able to hold his own under all circumstances and against all comers. It is only on these conditions that he will grow into the kind of American man of whom America can be really proud.

The men we need are the men of strong, earnest, solid character—the men who possess the homely virtues, and who to these virtues add rugged courage, rugged honesty, and high resolve.

Physical strength was important to Roosevelt.

He grew up as a weak, sickly child who was often bullied and made fun of. After one particular beat down, Roosevelt vowed to never be weak again and began to take boxing lessons. From that point, he embraced physical strength as a necessary component of an American man.

He became one of the most physically active American President’s in history, practicing wrestling, boxing, hunting, grappling, judo, and jiu-jitsu.

In this article from The Post Game, write Jon Finkel describes Roosevelt’s physical exploits:

“During his political career, he voluntarily subjected himself to a staggering number of brutal sparring sessions with championship-caliber fighters. Boxers; wrestlers; martial artists — it didn’t matter to Roosevelt. If they’d be willing to punch him in the face or pin him to the ground, he’d take them on. He felt it was the only way he could maintain his “natural body prowess.”

Roosevelt was a learning junkie, and he was no different when it came to physical skills such as boxing and martial arts. He wanted to know it all, and didn’t care if he looked foolish, or got physically punished by someone more advanced than he.

A man was nothing to Roosevelt if he did not have character and a certain level of physical and mental prowess. In his day, to be a man you need to look and act like one. Sadly, we are far removed from many of the characteristics that defined that day.

We are at a period in time where masculinity is endangered.

Roosevelt on the Strenuous LifePhysical strength and healthy living are worse now than ever. Men have given up the boxing gloves for the TV remote. Smart phones have taken the place of weights.

Alpha male characteristics such as strength, independence and resolve are now replaced with obedience, conformity, and laziness. We are at a crossroads where men need to decide what they will become, what they wills stand for, and what characteristics they will embody.

However, all hope isn’t lost. We must cultivate a healthy mindset before we will ever see healthy results. It’s okay to “work hard and play hard,” but we must make sure we are actually working hard in the first place. We know when we are half-assign it. The key is to challenge ourselves every single day.

On Wealth & Success

Success must always include, as its first element, earning a competence for the support of the man himself, and for the bringing up of those dependent upon him. In the vast majority of cases it ought to include financially rather more than this. But the acquisition of wealth is not in the least the only test of success.

After a certain amount of wealth has been accumulated, the accumulation of more is of very little consequence indeed from the standpoint of success, as success should be understood both by the community and the individual. Wealthy men who use their wealth aright are a great power for good in the community, and help to upbuild that material national prosperity which must underlie national greatness; but if this were the only kind of success, the nation would be indeed poorly off.

Money defines success, but only to a point. Once a threshold is hit, man begins to search for a greater meaning.

There is a reason many of the world’s richest men have crossed over into philanthropic work. They longed for a sense of fulfillment that transcended money.

Those people who waste away money develop an unhealthy sense of greed and selfishness are ultimately unhappy and empty inside. Once this catches up to them, it is often too late, as they are too far gone to find joy again. Their self-loathing has reached a breaking point.

Using our money to help the less fortunate is what makes us feel alive inside, a distinct characteristic of the human species, as we all have a subconscious desire to leave behind something better than what we started with.

Making money matters, but always find time to give back. 

Final Thoughts

Roosevelt lived in a starkly different era than the one we know today. In the early 1900’s, masculinity, resolve, strength of character, and above all, hard work, were commonplace America ideals. People didn’t have much, and they knew that hard work and patience would give them the best chance to better their lives.

We must embrace self-discipline and hard work if we want to fulfill our goals and desires.

Most people focus on shortcuts, looking for a way around hard work and dedication. Nothing will come of this. Success is a product of many factors, but none so prominent as consistent focused work. Take Roosevelt’s words and apply them to your own life. Decide what matters most to you, and pursue it vigorously. Choose the Strenuous life.

P.S. You can buy The Strenuous Life  here.

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If you want to read more on Roosevelt, click here. Also, leave any comments or feedback below!

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