This week, the catchphrase is The Strenuous Life, a phrase I take from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt made in Chicago in 1905.
I wish to preach, not the doctrine of the ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach the 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.
A life of slothful ease, a life of that peace which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things, is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual. I ask only that what every self respecting American demands from himself and from his sons shall be demanded of the American nation as a whole. Who among you would teach your boys that ease, that peace, is to be the first consideration in their eyes — to be the ultimate goal after which they strive? You… have done your share, and more than your share, in making America great, because you neither preach nor practice such a doctrine.
You work yourselves, and you bring up your sons to work. If you are rich and worth your salt, you will teach your sons that though they may have leisure, it is not to be spent in idleness; for wisely used leisure merely means that hose who possess it, being free from their necessity of working for their livelihood, are all the more bound to carry on some kind of non-rumunative work in science, in letters, in art, in exploration, in historical research – work of the type we most need in this country, the successful carrying out of which reflects most honor upon the nation.
We do not admire the man of timid peace. 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 is worse never to have tried to succeed. In this life we get nothing save by effort. Freedom from effort in the present merely means that there has been stored effort in the past.
Those who do not continue to strive for great things remain stagnant.
I am living the strenuous life because I am constantly pressing forward. Attempting the improve, as the speech says, It is hard to fail, but is worse never to have tried to succeed. Life is difficult, I’m not going to try to avoid the difficulties it gives me, without those difficulties I wouldn’t be made the way I am. Success is created by hard effort, if you expect it without work then you will be miserable for most of your existence. Why should I expect any special treatment from life? To gain great triumph, great difficulties must be sought, must be conquered.
Here on the farm it is a life full of hard work, of effort. From bookkeeping, moving cattle, and cutting trees. There is no “easy” task on a farm, but that’s what makes the American farmer distinct, the constant effort in the hope of a better future. All jobs contain this element, but there is a difference between avoiding it through life or welcoming it. By welcoming difficulty you gain honor and respect even when loosing, running away from it only makes you weak and frail.
This is perhaps one of the greatest aspects of the American Dream, a good life can be forged though effort, but it requires determination in the face of strife.