Roosevelt found himself on the edge every day
This post originally appeared on the author’s blog “Rivers of Thought” as “Rapids on the RooseveltRiver – Living Life on the Edge“
His journal entry was simple.
the light has gone out of my life
What event would evoke such a dismal comment from a future President of the United States? It was February 14, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt was hard at work in Albany, miles away from home, when word reached him about the deaths of his mother and his wife just hours apart. The day brought this section of the Roosevelt River to a close, the culmination of six crucial years in the life of Roosevelt.
These six years saw Roosevelt deal with the death of his father (his foundational relationship), drop out of Harvard, re-enroll and then graduate from Harvard, become engaged to and marry his wife Alice, finish his critically acclaimed book on the Navy in the War 1812, receive word from doctors that his health would severely limit his life, discover his life’s calling in politics, find his soul in the Dakotas and the Badlands, and experience the birth of his first child. The lessons he learned in these years would help him deal with the darkest day of his life and develop into leader we remember today.
When I think back on those years in my life, they were quite a whirlwind as well, though I didn’t face anything as dark as the death of both parents and a spouse. During those same years (19 – 25), I got married, had two kids, started college, transferred schools (twice), got a job, discovered computers, moved to Chicago, moved to Indianapolis, moved to Lebanon (the city in Indiana, not the country in the Middle East), started a spiritual journey with a seagull and a barnstormer (that’s for you Jay), and watched my mom deal with the recovery from a near fatal fire.
Some people like to live on the edge, challenging life at every turn. Roosevelt did enjoy a physical challenge like dude ranching out west in the Dakotas or canoeing in the Amazon. In fact he would rely on these adventures to get him through tough times in life. But more than these extreme adventures, Roosevelt found him self on the edge in every day life, challenging himself and others not to be pulled into the center, not to accept the status quo. Roosevelt exemplified this living on the edge style early in his career by focusing on “cleaning up” politics and government.
After spending 30 years in IT, I can’t think of another career I could have chosen that would have been more on the edge…and the edge continues to move outward at an every increasing pace, yet even in IT there is a center, a status quo. The old days of being able to lock everything behind closed doors are gone. No longer can we “command and control”, block Facebook and employees will just use their phones. Instead, we must embrace but protect. Today the edge is cloud, mobile, gamification, crowdsourcing, the internet of things, and much more.
Isn’t that the definition of being a leader, though? Living on the edge, continually pulling those around you out of the center? It is difficult, like being caught in a whirlpool above a rapids (hey this is a series about a RIVER), the closer to the center you are the harder and harder it pulls you in. The further and further away from the center, the swimming gets easier, but you can’t pull anyone with you. If you get too far on the edge you run the risk of being thrashed about in the rapids.
Where do you spend your time? In the center? On the edge? Beyond the edge?
RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt.