How to Deal With Sorrow Like Theodore Roosevelt

“The light has gone from my life.” ~ TR

Theodore Roosevelt is a famous figure for what he did and said, but also for what he endured and how he endured it. In his twenties as a man on the rise in New York’s political system, Roosevelt’s young wife and his still vibrant mother (only forty six) died within hours of one another.

Crushed, Roosevelt wrote only the quote above, marking that horrific day with a big X in his journal. Roosevelt’s method of dealing with the tragedy was to thrust himself into a situation he was not completely sure he could endure, as was his default. He went out west to Dakota, bought a ranch, hunted, and became a cowboy, living a far more difficult life than he was, living off of his father’s money in New York.

The escape wasn’t so much running from his problems and memories – though that had to be part of it – but running into something new and arduous and dangerous. The West was still wild. He endured real hardship and harsh conditions, even dicey situations with outlaws and gunmen. It was the unknown, the difficult, the adventure that Roosevelt constantly used, even later in life as he explored unknown and uncharted parts of the Amazon after a crushing defeat in the national election, to get tougher when life had seemed to deliver him a blow that he could not get up from.

From the River of Doubt, by Candice Millard:

He was filled with vigor and perspective after mastering an entirely unfamiliar world of danger on the American frontier – and defeating, by sheer energy and physical exertion, the grief that had threatened to overwhelm him. “Black care,” he explained, in a rare unguarded moment on the subject, “rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough.”

Again, Black care rarely sits on behind the rider whose pace is fast enough.

In other words, sorrow cannot take hold of the man who’s life is so fast-paced that it cannot catch him.

TR’s default was action, but not only action in the sense of work or climbing the ladder as we’re expected to do, but action in an unexpected direction. As sorrow threatened to grip him he sought stress, pressure, and the unknown. There was always a physicality to how he dealt with malaise.

When you’re trying to survive, to make it to the next hill or outpost or day, you have little time to think about that which aims to keep you down.

Most of our ‘defaults’ when we experience tragedy is to collapse, confine ourselves, try to work through our pain not by acquiring more of it, but by closing ourselves off to any more of it whatsoever. We vacation; we take time from work to work through that which is suffocating us. (Read This: You Don’t Deserve a Vacation)

So what’s the solution?

Should we stay as we are, where we are and accept the sympathy that comes our way, the helping hands that are thrust in our direction with a hint of pity in their touch? Or should we put ourselves in situations where we cannot dwell on what has been done and what has happened because the greater dangers are in our present adventure?

Instead of turning our backs on our hardship, even diving into our sorrow, maybe the path to healing mirrors the path to strength in the gym.

In you’re training you have to progressively overload the muscle to get stronger. That is, you can’t lift the same weight day after day and expect to see real improvement. You need to constantly lift heavier weight. What was difficult to lift a month ago won’t be difficult enough now.

In life, what was tough to handle in the moment won’t be in time if the difficulty of what you attempt to endure on a daily basis is progressively tougher. The tougher you are, the better equipped you are to handle the tragedies life will throw your way – which is inevitable if you intend to live a life of action.

There’s also the aspect of nature and silence. TR spent a lot of time hunting in the Dakota area, be it moose or bison or wolves or grizzlies, he was alone on horseback a lot. Alone in silence, real silence that cannot be found in a city or town where he must have been forced to come to grips with what happened.

Each day should not weaken you, but test you.

When we feel down we sit back, rest easy, feel worthy of complacency. But each day should be a test. We should test our mettle through discipline and by experiencing things we’re not completely sure if we can endure. And when life hurls tragedy upon us, we should test ourselves even further.

Do those things that you’re not sure you can accomplish.

In his wonderful speech, The Man in the Arena, Roosevelt highlights those who are engaged in the struggle, facing their fears, going beyond what they’re certain they can endure, essentially, those who are participating in life. He compares them to the critic who points out how the strong man stumbles.

He clearly didn’t just speak these words, but he lived them. As should you.

When you’re feeling down, act. When you’re in despair, hunt and conquer something that frightens you a little. When you’re worried about whether or not you’re good enough or strong enough, find out if you are or aren’t by going beyond what you currently know and presently know you can endure.

When life knocks you down ask for more, don’t ask for a break.

About The Author

Chad Howse: Chad’s mission is to get you in the arena, ‘marred by the dust and sweat and blood’, to help you set and achieve audacious goals in the face of fear, and not only build your ideal body, but the life you were meant to live. He’s a former 9-5er turned entrepreneur, a former scrawny amateur boxer turned muscular published fitness author. He’ll give you the kick in the ass needed to help you live a big, ambitious life.
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