The Glory of Work and the Joy of Living

Theodore Roosevelt, to those who don’t know much about him, is a fascinating study into the evolution of the Presidency and the onset of the Progressive Era. Yet, in my opinion, he’s so much more important than that. In my eyes, he was one of the greatest Americans who has lived not because of his role in the public life, but rather in the way he carried himself—he was John Wayne and Ron Swanson all in one.

Now obviously, he was one of the all time greats—you don’t get your face on Mount Rushmore for no reason. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, that’s some pretty good company. One is considered the father of our country, the second was the author of the Declaration, and finally the third saved the country from the brinks of disaster. Now what about Teddy? Why does he fit in? Well, according to those who built this edifice, he represents the great changes in the United States. Considering all his work in both the preservation of national parks and the sweeping progressive changes he instituted, this seems fit. But I like to consider a different aspect, mainly that Teddy Roosevelt represents the great ideals of American manhood.

“Speak softly and carry a big stick” is one of his most remembered phrases. It calls to mind the silent but tough man, something inherently American. But let us examine TR further, by looking into his autobiography. He would write,

There must be the keenest sense of duty, and with it must go the joy of living; there must be shame at the thought of shirking the hard work of the world and at the same time delight in the many-sided beauty of life. With soul of flame and temper of steel we must act as our coolest judgement bids us. We must exercise the largest charity towards the wrong-doer, that is compatible with relentless war against the wrong-doing. We must be just to others, generous to others, and yet we must realize that it is shameful and a wicked thing not to withstand oppression with high heart and ready hand. With gentleness and tenderness there must go dauntless bravery and grim acceptance of labor and hardship and peril. All for each, and each for all, is a good motto; but only on condition that each works with might and main to so maintain himself as not to be a burden to others.

There is something beautiful to these words, hearkening back to the “old days” when men were free and tough. But there is also an inherent balance that Roosevelt construed. The balance between gentility and courage, peril and tenderness, beauty and labor. This balance is the perfection of manhood—as an old priest friend described, a balance between beast and wimp. In this sense then, man becomes a guardian. In Roosevelt’s own eyes, he became a steward of his family, his land, and his country.

These are the virtues that we must hope to reflect in our lives. Steward, guardian, leader, whatever label is placed on it, the virtues stay the same. American manhood is just such ideals. We are called to speak only when necessary, not raising our voices in gossip, slander, or wasting our breath with useless self-praise. Be appreciative of that given to you and the beauty that surrounds. Take courage and hold your ground for your fundamental principles. Think well. Read. Exercise. This is American manhood. Yet all is grounded in the principles of self-control, simplicity, and hard work. This is where Teddy is such a perfect example and such a great American hero.

There is something quite dashing about Teddy. He was the man of all trades—author, cowboy, statesman, family man, and soldier. He lived for the outdoors, loving nature and reveling in its beauty. As a child, he wanted to be a naturalist in the strain of Chapman or Muir. Roosevelt seems to have lived life to the fullest, taking advantage of every opportunity presented to him. We can take example from that—no adventure is too great. But we must be dedicated in our work, as Roosevelt was; only then can we master opportunity.

This theme of dedication and work were constants in Roosevelt’s life. By this I mean that hard work and perseverance were the watchwords that he lived by. Indeed, nothing was easily gained by him—he worked for it all. This fundamentally hearkens back to his youth, when as a sickly boy he forced himself to become physically adept, training for years in boxing and weightlifting. From this point on, all revolved around hard and brutal work. Discussing his years on a cattle ranch, Roosevelt would write “we knew toil and hardship and hunger and thirst; and we saw men die violent deaths as they worked among the horses and cattle or fought in evil feuds with one another; but we felt the beat of hardy life in our veins, and ours was the glory of work and the joy of living.” This is the best kind of success, but that which is least recognized—the success of hard work over talent. I especially like that last line a lot, the glory of work and the joy of living. Often we try to separate those words, especially glory and work. But there is glory in a hard day’s work, even if you are the only one who lives it—there is victory in a small accomplishment.

I feel the need to diverge on this briefly, that there is glory in work which leads to joy in life. Josemaria Escriva writes, “heroism at work is to be found in finishing each task.” This is exactly it, as to work is man’s intent—even in the Garden, man was placed to work. Roosevelt is a modern model for this, reinstituting the glory of work into our minds. Hard work is virtuous. This is the basis for American manhood. Even more so in a spiritual sense, there is sanctification to be found in the daily work. This heroism of daily work is our calling. Yet there is also so much joy to be found in life. Look at Roosevelt’s work in the natural surroundings of this country. He found so much perfection in nature. Not all of us are outdoorsmen, but we can still stop to value a starlit night or a simple moment with an autumn leaf.

You see, this is the mindset behind the American dream; work hard. Yet that vivacity in life and its joys is often set on the backburner. Teddy brings that back to the forefront. Life is full of joys, even in the midst of the its most brutal labors. You must seek them out. This is what separates him from the workaholic mindset. Teddy found joy in wherever he was, seeing his work as a growth in virtue. Workaholics see their labors as a never ending means to an end, rarely seeing true joy.

This virtue of Roosevelt has been lost in the America of today. Rarely do we see our generation simply putting their nose to the grindstone with a reckless abandon. It seems that today, to work is license to complain. Yet, Roosevelt reveled in the challenge of the daily. We must hearken back to his example. There is a stark need for balance in our lives—a balance of joy and work, beauty and courage. There is glory still to be found; we can find it.

Originally Published on his brother Nicholas' Blog "Passionately Loving the World"