The Strenuous Life: 3 Entrepreneurial Takeaways from Theodore Roosevelt’s Famed Speech

When we started our company, we didn’t have an office. It was still under construction. Our landlord gave us a dozen old desks that we set up in the corner of our factory as a short-term workspace. Because of construction delays, we were in the temporary location for more than a year.

The factory had air conditioning but it was always hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The humidity curled our papers and jammed our printers. It was an open office environment, so we were constantly being disrupted by phone calls, discussions and various debates. The factory equipment was an unceasing source of noise as well. In that first year, we made a lot of “friends.” We were visited by ants, spiders, flies and the occasional mouse. It was not an ideal work environment but we managed to get by.

When the construction was finally complete and we moved into our new offices, there was almost a sadness in our team. We had worked together in less than ideal conditions and we had come to enjoy the experience. We appreciated the strenuous life of a start-up company.

On April 10, 1899, just one year after his Rough Riders took San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American war, Theodore Roosevelt delivered his famous speech known as “The Strenuous Life.” The speech was meant to be a wake-up call to Americans at the beginning of the 20th century. He stressed that America’s continued greatness would only be possible through hard work and perseverance.

Much of his speech is applicable to entrepreneurs today. Here are 3 key takeaways:

“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

Success is sweeter. Entrepreneurial success is considerably sweeter because of how much hard work, suffering and perseverance is required. Moving outside your comfort zone and starting a business is hard. Most startup companies begin with little or no funding which requires owners to forgo salaries, work long hours and operate in makeshift offices. Many startups struggle for years before reaching any level of financial stability. As I wrote in the article, This Start-Up Story is a Must Read for Every Entrepreneur, It took Phil Knight more than 18 years to make Nike a success. Because the effort is significant, every business success is that much more satisfying. In my company, we still ring a bell for every customer order. We celebrate every victory no matter how small.

“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 neither victory nor defeat.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

The struggle is good. It’s better to face the uncertainties of being an entrepreneur than suffer in a job you dislike. In general, there is stability in working for a large company. The pay is good and there are opportunities for bonuses and promotions. Many people make long careers in big companies without giving it much thought. Countless others, however, dislike their jobs but are afraid of leaving and starting their own businesses. They know that being an entrepreneur is full of risks and success is far from certain. Roosevelt tells us that daring to do mighty things will lead to both glorious triumphs and the occasional failure. The strenuous life of an entrepreneur is filled with emotional highs and lows but it’s better than the dull gray twilight of laboring in a job you hate.

“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.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

Personal growth will happen. The entrepreneurial experience develops grit. Start-up life is filled with uncertainty and challenges. The entrepreneur’s journey requires passion and persistence over the long term. Angela Duckworth defines this as “grit.” In her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Duckworth explains that grit is the one determining factor as to why some people endure the toughest trials and others drop out. Entrepreneurs develop these qualities as they work countless long days and endure endless trials to bring their ideas to life. Success is only achieved through persistence, passion and perseverance.

Roosevelt fervently believed in the strenuous life. He understood that people are at their best when overcoming hardships and trials. He considered effort and perseverance as essential to building strong character. The entrepreneur’s journey is filled with uncertainty and challenges. The road is long and filled with emotional highs and lows. Failure lurks around every corner and success is far from certain. Yet, these challenges lead to growth and overcoming the odds makes winning that much sweeter. For the entrepreneur, there is satisfaction in daring to do mighty things.

[Photo: Colonel Roosevelt and his Rough Riders at the top of San Juan Hill July 1898]

 

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3 thoughts on “The Strenuous Life: 3 Entrepreneurial Takeaways from Theodore Roosevelt’s Famed Speech

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  1. Great to reflect on this Job and your courage to become an entrepeneur. Whether we become one yet or not, surely staying in a job, no matter how safe it may seem, will make your personal realization a continuous source of frustration. So, why not give it a gritty tried!! Thanks!

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