Conversations in Management: Teddy Roosevelt

It is impossible to win the great prizes of life without running risks, and the greatest of all prizes are those connected with the home.

 Theodore Roosevelt

MarsNo one can accuse Teddy Roosevelt of being “risk averse.” When his wife and mother both died on the same day, he headed for the Badlands of the Dakota Territory where he mastered his grief through a combination of hunting, cowboying and chasing desperadoes. It was pretty risky for the city-bred aristocrat but he regained his confidence and won the admiration of the plainsmen. Back in New York, he accepted appointment as President of the Board of City Police Commissioners. He took on the task of reforming the nation’s most corrupvalues, family, love, caring, supportingt police force. It was risky business walking the streets at night busting derelict cops and rooting out graft. He was so effective that the city bosses engineered his run for governor just to get him out of the city. There’s no doubting that his charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War was risky. He recruited and led the Rough Riders in a campaign that provided as much danger from disease as it did from combat. As President he took more risks—busting Trusts and completing the Panama Canal. Like a trapeze artist swinging across the big top, Roosevelt took big risks and moved from great prize to great prize. But everything he did was in the context of his family. Anytime he ventured away from home it was with the clear intent of coming back to a raucous, joyful reunion. Love, loyalty and demonstrative affection abounded in the Roosevelt household.

Recently a new brand of risk takers was in the news. These are the men and women making the first cut for selection as astronauts on a mission to Mars. The project is called Mars One and it plans on putting four people on the Red Planet by 2025. On the upside, it’s a daring plan that has people around the globe excitedly discussing space travel. On the downside, it’s a one-way trip and both astronaut selection and life on Mars will be filmed as a TV reality show. Paul Römer, creator of the Big Brother TV series is already on board to get that ball rolling. Motivations for making the trip vary but so far curiosity, adventure and fame seem to top the list. It’s certainly a risky project, but what’s the great prize of life here? These motivations seem awfully shallow to support you on a distant planet, living in cramped quarters with only three other people—for the rest of your life. Perhaps stranger than the actual mission, is the number of people willing to bid adieu to spouse and children. Emblematic is the father of four who claims to love his family more than Mars, but wants to make a name for himself. “Hopefully there isn’t too much hatred of my being selfish in pursuing a dream that isn’t theirs,” he dolefully told reporters. None-the-less, his “dream” trumps family love.

In a national survey, the great prizes associated with home were values of loving, caring and supporting one another. Yet psychologists report that the values beginning to predominate popular culture are winning, status, power, appearance, and conspicuous consumption. None of these lead to happiness, contentment or a fulfilling life. None contribute to the well-being of others. Nevertheless, while none of us will be Trust-Busting or landing on Mars anytime soon, we’re often willing to take risks to support this superficiality. We take jobs that aren’t meaningful, work longer hours and spend more time away from loved ones only to find that in the end we’ve garnered no great prize at all. Take some time and think about what you value. What’s your greatest prize? Will you risk status, power or wealth to make it yours?   —Ebert  

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