Ken Burns has done it again. The King of PBS documentary programing has produced another historic series worth anyone’s time who value’s United States history. The Roosevelts ranks with Burns other classic creations which include Baseball, Jazz, The National Parks, and others. I’ve enjoyed watching it this week and encourage those who have missed it to look for it on-demand or DVD in the future. It tells the biographical story of America’s 26th President Theodore Roosevelt, America’s 32nd President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and FDR’s wife and cousin Eleanor Roosevelt (who had the fortuitous opportunity to maintain her maiden name after marrying). I’ve read several biographies on Theodore Roosevelt and consider him a true American Hero.
A statement in the second episode of the program struck home and I felt was worth sharing for those like me, and like Teddy Roosevelt who have faced great disappointment or tragedy that led them to despair and depression. Unknowingly, in my own experience, I have done as TR did and am repeating the rewards. While my rewards are not on the scale of what he did I can’t help but believe in his and mine own and many others stories there are lessons to be learned.
On Valentine’s Day, February 14th (my birthday), in 1884 Roosevelt’s first wife and his mother died in the same house on the same day. Alice Lee died only two days after giving birth to Roosevelt’s oldest child, Alice. Alice Lee and Theodore had been married four years and a loving couple since their youth. Roosevelt, though only 26 years old, was already making a name for himself in the New York State legislature. His wife’s death devastated him. He wrote that “…the light has gone out of my life.” He was so incapable of dealing with the grief he ordered those around him to never speak Alice Lee’s name ever again. If he ever did himself, its unknown to historians.
Rather than wallow in despair and depression the energetic TR decided to dramatically change his life. He decided to get busy. Roosevelt left the legislature and left the East Coast. He took himself to the Badlands in Dakota Territory and set out to be a Cowboy, Sheriff, rancher, and big game hunter. He did all those things, and mastered them, having never even attempted being such an outdoorsman at any time prior to the death of Alice Lee. Roosevelt was a New Yorker and raised in privilege. and he had been a weak, sickly child. But his depression from losing the love of his life was so impactful that he escaped that life in favor of a hard life in one of the hardest environments in the country.
During the snowiest winter on record in 1886 nearly all of Roosevelt’s cattle herd perished. Shortly thereafter Roosevelt left the Dakota’s and returned to the East Coast politics and considerably more adventures. His frenetic manner continued until his death in January 1919. As was mentioned in the PBS program Roosevelt said “Action” is the road away from despair and depression. And he fearlessly pursued every challenge ever presented to him. He even sought out those challenges. “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”- TR
In all my life I’d never faced serious depression like I did nearly one year ago. I was devastated and found merely getting through each and every day very difficult. But I pushed through it. At the start of 2014 while at the height of my lethargy I made two statements that have carried me to a place I now know is the pinnacle of great things to come. I said my 9 year old company, Total Broadcasting Service, would have its best year ever and that by the end of the year I would be debt free.
For the first time I hired a business coach, knowing I needed the direction and guidance for my business while my personal life was in disarray. He helped steer me into the things I wanted to do. The coach also asked me every week to do something “courageous”. With each passing week I found my focus easier to come by and my ability to do the hard things, ask the tough questions, make sales appointments, close sales and even volunteer my time became easier and easier.
I also became a voracious reader of books, mostly self-help books. I’ve read more books in the first 9 months of 2014 than any year in my life. I always knew reading was important and beneficial, but I never MADE the time for it, outside of my daily viewing of the Sports page. Each day I fill my mind with good ideas and motivational thoughts from authors who are accomplished in one way or another, one field or another. And I’m a better man for it.
I find myself exhausted at the end of most days. But unlike the time of my worst depression my exhaustion is not caused by emotional energies being spent worrying about what has happened or what might happen. My exhaustion is a good exhaustion earned by “action” and exertion. I wake at 5:30am and seldom pull the plug on my day’s efforts before 8pm. And when I pull the plug…I’m done.
The good results of my relentless drive were immediate, but not dramatic. I could chart greater income for my company. And I could definitely know my hurt heart and emotional challenges were easing as I focused more and more on what needs to be done right now at this very moment.
The gradual improvement in all things in my life has recently turned into a tidal wave of good fortune. Not even through September Total Broadcasting Service is exploding past our previous revenue records. My home is neater and in good repair and could be argued in better shape and appearance than at any time in my 11 years of living here. I’ve given considerable volunteer time to a great organization called Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County and even applied to be on the non-profit’s Board of Directors, something I expect to be officially named to in a matter of days. My family is happier and healthier because of my efforts. And I now look forward to a future that once scared me, but that I now know holds great promise and opportunity.
Challenges remain in front of me and my despair returns for short periods now and again, but through action, diligent, non-stop daily effort I have followed the example set by Theodore Roosevelt and made my life better. Time will tell if my achievements can be comparatively similar to the ball of energy that was TR. But I honestly expect great things, and that’s half the battle. I would counsel anyone in despair or depression to dive into your work if its work you love. I would advise them to focus on helping others. When you help others you forget about your own troubles and become a problem solver.
Lastly, I honestly belief God see’s our good work and rewards us. He may not reward us right away. But the rewards are coming. I promise.