By any estimation, Theodore Roosevelt led a successful and productive life. He left a lasting positive impact upon the world. His was a life well lived…one we all can aspire to achieving.
It didn’t happen accidentally. Teddy was a man of action, intellect, and empathy. He created his life. And he helped influence the lives of countless others. Here’s how he did it.
1. Have courage
There’s no doubt that Teddy was courageous. It is exemplified in all that he did during his life, from hunting big game to assuming the presidency at 42 after the assassination of President William McKinley. Although he was our youngest president, he is also recognized as one of the best…primarily because he had the guts to make things happen.
Perhaps his most courageous feat was leading a small group of men…the Rough Riders…up Kettle Hill in Santiago, Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Despite being out-numbered, under heavy fire, and wounded by shrapnel, Roosevelt stormed the hill ahead of his men, rallying them to defeat the entrenched Spanish troops. The Rough Riders had the highest casualty rate of any unit during the war…about 1/3 of the troops. But most observers and historians agree that it was Roosevelt’s unwavering courage under fire that led to victory. It also led afterward to his success in politics.
On another infamous occasion, Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a would-be assassin prior to a speech he was scheduled to make in Milwaukee. Despite bleeding from his wound, Teddy insisted on delivering the 90-minute speech before being treated.
Politically, Roosevelt took on powerful banking and corporate interests. He triumphed in most cases, and changed American life forever.
Teddy knew the value of taking risks and wasn’t afraid to do so during his life. Without taking risks your life won’t likely be exceptional. Without risk there is little chance of gain.
2. Be resilient
Despite setbacks in his personal and professional life, including the death of his beloved mother and wife on the same day in his home, Teddy always rallied and forged optimistically and confidently ahead. Being able to rebound from setbacks helped Roosevelt become one of the most influential presidents in our nation’s history.
If you want success, develop the fortitude to bounce back and persevere from life’s inevitable setbacks
Roosevelt was a prodigious writer. He authored more than 35 books on a wide range of subjects…from Naval Wars of 1812 to Summer Birds of the Adirondacks. He also wrote an astounding 150,000+ beautifully crafted, loving, and instructive letters to friends and relatives during his lifetime. Teddy’s writing led to many unforeseen opportunities in his life. And his books influenced American policies as well as the appreciation of nature.
Writing a book can change your life. Benjamin Disraeli said that if you want to learn about something, write a book about it. Writing a book will also teach you the value of hard work and persistence. Writing will elevate you above those who haven’t made the effort to put their thoughts into words…and often lead to unexpected opportunities.
Teddy learned to be a fiery and eloquent public speaker. And in private, his powers of persuasion were legendary. But it wasn’t always so for Roosevelt. In his youth his speech was high-pitched and shallow. His life working as a rancher built up his body and his confidence. His writing honed his command of the language. And by the time he emerged on the scene as a political leader, Teddy had developed a speaking style that was both powerful and engaging.
Your voice is like a second face…it’s important to the impression you make on others. Learn to speak well and give a presentation that will motivate people. Study up on it. Speak often. And watch your life change.
5. Be self-aware
In an early crisis of self-awareness initiated by the death of his wife and mother, Roosevelt left his comfortable patrician home life and embarked on an often grueling life as a rancher in the wild lands of the Dakotas. It was during this time alone that he developed the confidence and self-assuredness of purpose that guided him for a lifetime.
Take time to find out who you really are, what you want, and what you truly believe…not just what you’ve been programmed by parents and teachers to be. As Socrates said, “A life unexamined is a life unlived.”
6. Be curious
From boyhood, Roosevelt was curious about life, always exploring, learning, and discovering new experiences that satisfied his restless intellect…and helped develop his unique personality.
When he saw the ravages of the bison herds (reduced to just a few hundred by the time he went west) and the destruction of the beautiful American habitat, Roosevelt used his first-hand knowledge to help preserve our national treasures.
In life you must be aware and curious to discover who you are and what the world is about…and to take what you learn and use it for transformative action.
7. Be creative
Teddy never lacked for creativity. Besides writing books, establishing national parks and forests, and starting up his own political party, he was always creating the means to achieve what he believed to be his destiny…and change America forever.
Creativity is important to living a full life…and changing the world. Make your existence meaningful through creation.
8. Be self-reliant
Roosevelt learned self-reliance from his experiences as a rancher and cowboy. Although considered an effete Eastern rich boy by the local cowboys, Roosevelt proved his toughness, courage, and self-reliance over and over again….and gained the respect of the cowboys.
Self-reliance is an important factor in success. Take charge of the direction of your life. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
In hundreds of letters to his children (the collected works were published in 1919 and became a best-seller), Roosevelt dispensed kind, thoughtful advice that helped shape the lives of others in positive ways. His children grew into highly respected individuals, a testament to Teddy’s guidance.
Roosevelt’s empathy was a large part of his outsized personality. Once, while on an unsuccessful hunting trip, his guide tied an old bear to a tree so that Teddy could shoot it and at least say he bagged one animal. But Roosevelt felt so moved by the sad condition of the bear that he refused to shoot it. When word was leaked to the press of his gesture, a local merchant asked if he could name the new stuffed bears he was selling as “Teddy Bears” in honor of the president.
Although raised with wealth and privilege in a patrician family, Teddy became a champion of the average American. His days as a rancher in the Dakotas had introduced him to the life of people of all walks of life.
Empathy is important to being a leader. Unless you can put yourself in the shoes of others who are unlike you, you’ll likely never be able to effectively enlist their support or love.
10. Respect nature
At the time Roosevelt was a young man, the vast herds of buffalo that once roamed the west, numbering in the tens of millions, had been reduced to near extinction. Conserving nature was not important to most Americans at that time. But Teddy was a man who saw nature as vital to life itself.
During Roosevelt’s life he was able to set aside 220 million acres of land under Federal protection (equal to the entire Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Florida), he created five national parks, and more than 150 national forests, among other protections of the environment. Roosevelt respected nature and reveled in experiencing it as often as possible.
Take time to rejuvenate with a walk in the forest, a day at the beach, or a trip to a park.
11. Be physically fit
As a young man Roosevelt was often sick and his physique was frail. His father hired a personal trainer and a professional boxer to help Teddy build up his body. But when he left the East Coast for the Dakota Badlands to write, raise cattle, and live the cowboy life, Roosevelt also built up his physical strength. He hunted, rounded up cattle, slept out on the range, and worked hard every day. In one infamous incident, a barroom bully challenged Teddy and soon found himself knocked out with a couple of quick blows. He won the admiration of the real cowboys with his toughness on roundups. One tough ranch foreman said of Roosevelt, “That four-eyed maverick has sand in his craw aplenty.”
Although he was a slim, anemic looking 5 foot 8 inch boy when he traveled west, Teddy gained 30 pounds of muscle during his days as a cowboy and eventually went back east a robust man. The lesson here is that a healthy, strong body is the foundation for success in life.
12. Be progressive
Roosevelt didn’t live in the past. He wasn’t afraid to look forward and try new things. In fact, Teddy was always chomping at the bit to get new things done…from regulations on the food industry to the establishment of the Panama Canal to assuming the awesome responsibilities of the presidency. He never looked back or feared the future.
Dwelling on the past, fearing what lies ahead or what’s new, and being afraid to try new things will act as an anchor on your life. Stay open to the new.
13. Value family first
Roosevelt adored his mother and father. He was deeply in love with his wife…and was smitten by his five children whom he wrote long, loving, and instructive letters to all his life. He was close to his sisters, brother, and extended family members. Family shaped Roosevelt’s character…and Roosevelt’s character shaped his family’s character.
All Roosevelt’s offspring made significant marks upon the world. One son was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during D-Day. Another son dropped out of Harvard to serve as a pilot in World War I, and died heroically in battle. Archibald Roosevelt was seriously wounded in both world wars and later became a highly successful businessman. Ethel Roosevelt served as a nurse during World War I.
Teddy wrote about family, “There is no form of happiness on the earth, no form of success of any kind, that in any way approaches the happiness of the husband and the wife who are married lovers, and the father and mother of plenty of healthy children.” Roosevelt led a life of extraordinary accomplishment…but his greatest achievement in his mind was his family.
More than anything else, your family and friends will be the most important ingredients in a life well lived.
14. Take action
Teddy was first a man of action. When the Spanish American War broke out he resigned his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and almost single-handedly created the Rough Riders, as unusual a volunteer military unit as you may ever see. His heroics in Cuba fighting the Spanish are legendary.
As president he pushed through Congress the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act. He helped make the Panama Canal a reality. He was largely responsible for the modernizing of the Navy. He negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese war and was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. And he made a lasting mark on the American landscape with the most aggressive protection of natural resources to date, protecting vast amounts of land and resources.
Plans, goals, and talk of what you want to accomplish are great…but mean nothing if you aren’t willing to take action to make them happen.
15. Do it with style
When Roosevelt headed west to test himself and live the life of a rancher, he dressed the part. Teddy (to the benign amusement of the real cowboys) wore fringed buckskin he designed himself and carried a silver knife from Tiffany’s. It was important for him to see himself as a cowboy, even if the real cowboys looked like vagrants. So, at least in the beginning, he dressed the part. When he rode into battle during the Spanish America War his dashing appearance was aided by a uniform tailored by Brooks Brothers. Roosevelt was always conscious of the impact his persona made upon people…from the clothes he wore to his signature glasses to the suits he chose when governing the nation.
Like Teddy, you should develop a consistent and unique style in order to augment your overall “brand” image.
16. Give back
Teddy was raised in a family that considered it their duty to help make the world a better place.
Giving back…to others and to the world…may give you more satisfaction than anything else you do in life.
Theodore Roosevelt lived a successful life…one that earned him a coveted place on Mount Rushmore, along with Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. He did it by following the 16 principles outlined above. It’s as good a guide for living now as it was a century ago.
Finally, Teddy Roosevelt left us with some of the most inspiring words ever written.
“It’s not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, 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 and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Eric Wentworth is the author of A Plan for Life: The 21st Century Guide to Success in Wealth, Health, Career, Education, Love, Place…and You!