By Nate Desmond
One of the most productive and masculine leaders of the last century, Theodore Roosevelt has achieved almost mythical status for his various careers as a rancher, a soldier, and a politician – not to mention his achievements as a hunter and naturalist.
Due to severe asthma during his childhood, Theodore Roosevelt was homeschooled through high school. Despite his physical setbacks, however, “Teddy” studied hard and eventually attended Harvard University. During this time, he displayed particular ability as a historian, published his first book just two years after finishing college.
Following a short stint as a New York Assemblyman, Roosevelt moved to the Dakotas where he operated a cattle ranch until 1886. Returning east, the future president took a position as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. When the Spanish-American War broke out, however, he immediately resigned to lead a volunteer cavalry unit known as the Rough Riders.
Returning after the war, Theodore Roosevelt moved from Governor of New York to Vice President of the United States and, ultimately, to the Oval Office. As President, Roosevelt was responsible for the Panama Canal, the Great White Fleet, and the peaceful end of the Russo-Japanese War. After completing his second term, he declined to run again, but, instead, set out on a hunting safari in Africa and a tour of Europe. Following a nearly successful attempt to reenter politics, Roosevelt died at the age of 60 due to complications of malaria (which he had contracted while exploring South America).
What can we learn from the life of this great man?
#1 Focus On The Present
While Theodore Roosevelt pursued a number of vastly different careers, his consistent success was due largely to his ability to focus on the present. He ranched, he fought, and he politicked, but he only did one at a time.
By following this method of “serial excellence”, we too can accomplish great things in a variety of fields. While it is often tempting to do everything at once, you will be much more productive when you focus on one goal at a time.
#2 Never Stop Learning
After graduating from Harvard University, many people would be tempted to rest on their laurels and be done with their education. Theodore Roosevelt, one the other hand, made learning a life habit. While enforcing the law on the windswept prairies of the Dakota Badlands, Sheriff Roosevelt carried a book to fill his spare moments. Even in the White House, President Roosevelt purportedly read an average of five books a week.
Rather than treating our education as a task to be completed, we should view it as a lifestyle to be followed. Completing college is a major accomplishment, but it is still but a milestone on the path to greater learning.
#3 Take Risks
In retrospect, Roosevelt’s life looks like one big adventure, but we often overlook the risks he took. For instance, we all remember how his escapades with the Rough Riders propelled him to national fame, but do we remember the risk he took by resigning his promising position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in exchange for a volunteer position fighting in the war he supported?
As you move through life, remember to keep your eye on the goal. Do not let the lure of short-term success turn you from the long-term goal of greater learning and usefulness for God’s kingdom.
#4 Do Not Sacrifice Too Much
Unfortunately, no man is perfect, and Roosevelt is no exception. For all the encouragement we can draw from his life, he also provides one crucial lesson of warning. Like many great men from King David to Billy Sunday, Theodore Roosevelt’s career success came at the expense of his family’s well-being. After his wife died, Roosevelt left his newborn daughter with relatives while running his cattle ranch. Later, while President, he jokingly admitted to a friend, “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”
Let us learn from this unfortunate example and remember to keep our priorities correct. Whether we are tempted to value career over family or simply to forsake the Fourth Commandment while studying for a CLEP test, we must never forget to remember our priorities and live for eternity.
Which historical figures have you learned the most from in your own life?