“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
                                                                                                     ― Theodore Roosevelt

There is a saying that we’re all in the same ocean, but not the same boat. Some among us were handed every opportunity in the world. The right parents with the right resources and connections. The right genetics. The right intellect. The right everything. For those few, life seems to flow effortlessly. Their boat is a luxury yacht sailing off the coast of Monaco, insulated from all the problems of the world. On the other end of the spectrum are those who were handed almost nothing. Poor parents and poor minds trying to get an education in a poor school. For them everything about life is a struggle. Their boat is more like a raft cobbled together from debris and they’re just trying not to get washed down the river in a flood.

For the rest of us, we’re somewhere in between. Maybe we’re born with good brains and talent but we grow up in a place that never encouraged us to develop it. Sometimes it’s the opposite and those letters just won’t sit still on the page and math just make our eyes gloss over. Sometimes we’re just a whole lot of average. Not terrible, but also not extraordinary. It’s simply a big sliding scale of nature, nurture and luck. Our boat is something more like an old sailboat that might just get us somewhere tropical if we spent some time fixing it up.

The university I taught at was mostly full of the middle. Kids with families that had more money typically went to the bigger division one schools. But, you could definitely tell which students had gotten to this place through tenacity. The kids that never had to work for anything in high school often hit a wall in college. Because everything came easy in high school, they didn’t know how to study. They also didn’t know how to cope when things started going sideways. They were the house cats thrown into the street. These were the kids that would melt down or check out when things started going sideways. They may have had high IQs, but they were also fragile as glass. The kids that came from nothing and worked and clawed their way to a “B” average were more like rawhide leather. They made it to where they were on school loans, caffeine and determination. A bad grade on a test was just motivation to dig deeper. They were the ones chasing a dream on the horizon. Like Moana, they were going to get their boat across the reef and into open water no matter who told them they couldn’t.

Those were the students I wanted on my crew.

Theodore Roosevelt was born in 1858 to one of the wealthiest and well-connected families in New York. He was one of the few born with every opportunity and resource in the world. However, there was a problem. Young Theodore was not a healthy child. He may have been an intelligent child from a good family, but his body was failing him. He was a sickly child and suffered from severe asthma and host of other chronic issues. Regardless of the amount of money the family spent on doctors, young Theodore’s future seemed both bleak and short.

When he was around twelve years old His father told him, “You have the mind but you have not the body. You must make your body… It is hard drudgery to make one’s body, but I know you will do it.” That’s fancy, Victorian speak for, “Boy, you better get stronger or there’s a good chance you’re not going to make it. If you want to live long enough to be a man, you need to get your ass in gear.”

What happened next is pure TR. He got out of bed, started exercising and learned how to box. He didn’t train like he was trying to lose a few pounds. He trained like he was going to fight for the title. And in his father’s words, he made his body. Years later at Harvard, he continued to box and would often be seen running across campus to class. Even as the President, he would make cabinet members go with him to swim in the Potomac during the winter. Those who knew him and his level of energy sometimes described him as a coiled spring. He kept this regimented lifestyle through the rest of his days in what he later called “the strenuous life” in a speech he gave in Chicago.

He would also write, “Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.”

And it was the strenuous life that almost certainly saved him.

His father died unexpectedly when he was 19. And on Valentine’s Day in 1884 when he was only 25, both his mother and wife died in the same house only hours apart. His mother from typhoid fever and his wife from kidney failure after delivering their daughter, Alice two days prior.

The young man simply wrote an “X” on that page of his diary with the following sentence.

“The light has gone out of my life.”

Some storms are almost too strong to bear even for the strongest of men. Theodore left his infant daughter in the care of his sister and then bought a ranch in the Dakotas and worked as a cowboy and lawman for a couple of years. He had to remake himself once again. Away from the posh life of a wealthy New York politician, he intentionally placed himself in one of the harshest worlds possible.

He emerged from his journey into the wilderness as the Theodore Roosevelt that would make him a legend. The sickly child became the man who later in life was shot in the chest on the way to give a campaign speech. He coughed in his hand to see if the bullet had pierced his lungs, determined it wasn’t fatal and then proceeded to walk into the building and deliver his speech before allowing anyone to take him to the hospital.

With the most epic opening line of any speech, he addressed the audience with, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”

He then went on to speak for 50 minutes while bleeding through his shirt.

Get action.