What we all can learn from Teddy Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt

The economic downturn in 2008 hit my home like it did for many of my executive friends who experienced “opportunity” to find new places to work.   For me personally, it was a devastating experience. There was very little work for a Marketing executive when few were buying anything.  My network was good, but not that good.

My opportunity came from an unlikely source – Theodore Roosevelt.

 “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. (TR)

If I had been given the choice, I would have picked George Clooney as my doppelganger, but mine is Theodore Roosevelt.  As an occasional actor, I hoped there might be some part-time work I could pick up looking like him.

My contact to agents who specialize in look-alikes was not promising.  If I looked like Elvis or Marilyn Monroe, I might keep busy, but all recommended “Don’t quit your day job”.

Research into a job as a Presidential Impersonator was even more defeating.  It’s great work if you resemble the current President.  Potentially six figures, travel, fake secret service – in a word – “awesome” – for up to 8 years.  Once that President is out the door, you will be too.  My research wasn’t going the way I had hoped.

I decided to explore the motivational speaking circuit, as I figured there must be some call for motivating talks from famous leaders!   There is for living ones, but there was not much demand for dead ones. Three strikes and I should have been out.

 “Believe you can, and you are half-way there”. (TR)

A smart man stops after all the market research tells you to quit.  I was not about to let common sense get in my way.

I watched the Edison movies of Roosevelt, listened to recordings and memorized quotes.  Accomplishing those quickly, I found a place to do my first talk.   My nerves were so frazzled that I was able to crack my voice as Roosevelt did in real life without effort.  Anxiety flowed out of my pores and dripped off the end of my nose.  People were cordial as I wiped my brow repeatedly.  Once I finished my talk, they applauded! They thanked me and a few wanted my business card.

Each time I presented I got a little better.  My many hours of research on Roosevelt was paying off as I became better versed in his policies, his family and accomplishments.  As my confidence grew, so too did the requests.  I went from presenting just facts to presenting the concepts around the facts.

Then one day everything changed.  What made the difference was the day I truly internalized what I had been saying as the great man.    The words were no longer just “sound bites”.  They had become real for me – thus becoming real from me.

 “With self-discipline, most anything is possible”. (TR)

My personal goal from that point forward was to make people feel as if they had actually met Theodore Roosevelt.  I decided if I could do that, anything I wanted to achieve with my being “Teddy”, was possible.

The first time it happened was at a large history education event where they bused in school children during the week.  The event was open to the public for the weekend which allowed a very angry mother to place her daughter in front of me with firm orders I was to tell her that I was NOT Roosevelt.  I refused.  Mom learned from President Roosevelt that day that belief was an essential driver to success.  I had perfected convincing a child.  But I needed to convince an adult – a living, breathing intellectual adult.

It occurred one Sunday a few weeks later when a couple sheepishly came up to me at a similar multiple day event.  “Remember us?” they asked as they looked me up and down.  “Indeed I do!  How are you?” I responded.

They went on to inform me that they had become so engrossed in our conversation the previous day that after they left and went home, they each started to question what they had experienced.  I had tested their reality just enough that they decided they needed to come back to make sure I was actually at the event and that I was just a guy who looked and acted like Roosevelt.  Today, most people ask me questions by starting with “Mr. Roosevelt?” and often comment later in the hallway about how real it felt to them.

 “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care” (TR)

Since my revelation of the goal of making it “real”, I have been blessed with ongoing referrals that keep me busy across the country.  My talks are no longer just sound bites and quotes, but impactful discussions about the application of Roosevelt’s ideas, delivered by him, that we can apply each day to improve our own lives and those around us.  My appearances have expanded far beyond history events to include convention keynotes and government functions. I have raised millions for wildlife conservation and helped to create a National Monument, all as T.R.

Wherever I am, I encourage people to embrace Roosevelt’s idea of “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” and apply his principal of “Believe you can, and you are half-way there!”

For myself, I have learned that I believe we all have the capacity to reinvent ourselves just as Roosevelt did many times over.  Doing so takes incredibly hard work, courage to face your critics and determination to push far beyond your own comfort level. It also requires the support from others who cheer on your efforts and help you brush yourself off when you fail.

But in the end, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer, is the chance to work hard at work worth doing”.

 

Adam Lindquist is the Director of Membership for the Professional Risk Managers International Association who support his passion with job flexibility to work as an award-winning Theodore Roosevelt look-alike, educator and speaker.

Never be afraid to try

TR riding in a Wright Flyer

TR riding in a Wright Flyer

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

As children we are often carefree and not afraid to stumble and fall. That first time we are laughed at by another (when we don’t laugh at ourselves for our failure but instead shrink inside with embarrassment) is our first real point where our personal risk taking changes. The reality is that We all live each day with risk – driving our cars requires a certain amount of acceptance of risk that the other driver’s on the road are paying attention. Eating food that was sourced from across the globe requires an acceptance of risk that it was raised in a healthy way. Each day, we take risks without even thinking about it.

So why is it that we place such constraints on ourselves when it comes to how we are perceived by others? So many have engrained their lives with fear to fail, that they fail to live.

Roosevelt was a man who lived his life often without much fear of failure. His intelligence and knowledge of history allowed him to weigh risk carefully in the decisions he made. There are not many of us who could reference both the Roman empire and Greek Mythology to decide if a law made sense for the short and long-term. Roosevelt could. But with his intelligence came a child-like fascination with life that would find him doing things that others would be afraid to do or be laugh at for doing. He was a risk taker, He loved to try new things. He was the first President to fly in an airplane, but not the comfortable Air Force One. His flight was in an airplane that was known for its danger! He was the first President to dive in a submarine. The list is extensive!

Roosevelt was not afraid to be laughed at. He would often stand motionless under a tree in the Whitehouse lawn for hours on end. The Secret Service only stared in amazement, laughing at him trying to figure out what he was doing! Roosevelt was perhaps one of the most knowledgeable bird watchers on the Hemisphere – and this was a form of learning and relaxation for him. Many of his acts on conservation were thought of under that tree!

Today, Roosevelt is regarded as one of our best Presidents. He should be regarded as well on someone never afraid to fail.

Roosevelt’s animals in the White House

Quentin Roosevelt on his pony

Quentin Roosevelt on his pony

Theodore Roosevelt was always fascinated with nature and animals. His legacy can still be seen today through specimens collected for museums. That love of animals is something he passed down to his six children who had among them snakes, dogs, cats, a badger, birds, a bear, guinea pigs, ponies, a hyena and five dogs!

When Roosevelt’s son Archie got the measles, his brother Quentin thought a visit from the family pony might cheer Archie up. Quentin put the animal on the White House elevator and brought him to Archie’s upstairs room. Roosevelt had to hold back laughter as he scolded Quentin. But, Quentin’s animal adventures didn’t end there. Once he borrowed a bunch of snakes from a pet store. Running to show his father, Quentin interrupted an important meeting and dropped the snakes all over his father’s desk.

Alice, Roosevelt’s 17-year-old daughter (and one of the prettiest girls in Washington), had a pet snake as well named Emily Spinach. She took great joy in hiding the snake in a covered dinner plate during large White House banquets, and waiting for the shriek from guests when Emily appeared.

The Theodore Roosevelt Family

The Theodore Roosevelt Family

Roosevelt’s bull terrier, Pete was a beloved member of the First Family but was not a hit with visitors. Pete once attacked the French ambassador. After much commotion he was found to be uninjured but the same couldn’t be said for his pants. Pete had shredded one entire pant-leg.

Among the White House pets were a guinea pig named Father O’Grady and of course the snake named Emily Spinach. Roosevelt himself had a Bull Dog named Pete and a Chesapeake Retriever named Sailor Boy. He also had a small bear named Jonathan. (not the Teddy Bear, that’s a different story!)

Theodore Roosevelt Taxidermist and Naturalist

Born on October 27, 1858 in New York City, Roosevelt grew up in a world of wealth and privilege. Young Theodore however was found to be afflicted at a young age with Asthma as well as other illnesses. Because of his health, Roosevelt spent much of his childhood years bed ridden or at least confined to his home. He often slept propped up in bed or slouching in a chair during much of his early years. Despite his illnesses, he was hyperactive and often mischievous.

TR at Harvard

TR at Harvard

During severe bout of asthma attacks, his family would feed him strong coffee, thought in the day to be a proper treatment. His father would also would take him by carriage out of the city, so he could get fresh air. It was here that TR developed a love of nature. Some suggest this was partially psychological, as it gave him a chance to be alone with his father and also was the place where he could breath freely.

The times that young “Teedie” was healthy, he would explore the woods and trails and observe bugs, birds and animals. His lifelong interest in zoology was formed at age seven upon seeing a dead seal at a local market. After obtaining the seal’s head, the young Roosevelt and two of his cousins formed what they called the “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History”. Learning the rudiments of taxidermy from John Bell, (a famous taxidermist and colleague of wildlife artist John James Audubon) he filled his makeshift museum with animals that he killed or caught, studied, and prepared for display. At age nine, he codified his observation of insects with a paper titled “The Natural History of Insects”. At age 12, he donated some of them – a dozen mice, a bat, a turtle, four birds’ eggs and the skull of a red squirrel – to the American Museum of Natural History, founded by his father. Eleven years later, he presented 622 carefully preserved bird skins to the Smithsonian.

His first experience in a “public” school was when Theodore Roosevelt entered Harvard shortly before his eighteenth birthday. He originally chose to study natural history and had considered a teaching career. From the day of Theodore’s arrival in Cambridge, he failed to fit into the Harvard mold. His clothes were considered too flashy for the conservatives, who also disapproved of his recently grown sideburns. His college rooms were filled with his specimens and mounted animals. Faculty members who taught Roosevelt soon learned to treat him warily. Once Roosevelt asked so many questions during a natural history lecture that the professor exclaimed, “Now look here, Roosevelt, let me talk, I’m running this course!”

In 1878, Theodore’s world collapsed. His father and mentor, Theodore Roosevelt Sr., died shortly after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. The young man was devastated by this loss but resumed his studies. His father’s death changed the direction of Theodore’s life. When he returned to Harvard in the fall of 1878, he switched his major to history and government. He felt this would be the way for him to honor his father’s memory by pursing a career in public service. Though politics was considered “beneath” wealthy, young gentlemen, Roosevelt saw it as an opportunity to change laws for the betterment of society. He later wrote that his father influenced his life more than any other person and that he was the “greatest man he ever knew.”