Teddy Roosevelt’s backstage battle

Mark Overbye headshot
Mark Overbye, CEO, Anthem Marine

By Mark Overbye

Quit worrying about competitors, other forces closer to us are greater obstacles to our successes. The stories we tell ourselves and internal chaos can do more harm than any opponent. We all carry challenges that either become a rock in our shoe or the fire of inspiration.

Mediocrity and disappointment hold hands. Give frustration a foothold and your dreams will be smothered. Choosing to win and be resilient is not a well worn path, it’s easier to capitulate and commiserate with regaling stories proving misery loves company. But those who repeatedly get up after being knocked down win.

Theodore Roosevelt was a sickly kid, he spent a good deal of his youth in bed fighting asthma attacks. His doctor told him to avoid strenuous activity after he had a heart attack while attending Harvard. His father died of cancer while he was young. His mother died of typhoid fever just hours before his first wife died after giving birth to daughter, Alice.  His political pursuits were met with opinions of inexperience and lacking qualifications.

Here are a few accomplishments of a guy who maybe thought the deck was stacked against him:

  1. A dedicated conservationist, Teddy Roosevelt established five national parks, 51 federal bird sanctuaries, four national game reserves and 18 national monuments including the Grand Canyon. So far, the National Park Service has dedicated more units to his name than any other person.
  2. He ensured the completion of the Panama Canal. Roosevelt personally felt this was his most significant international contribution to history.
  3. He was the first American to win a Nobel Prize. He won the award in 1906, negotiating peace for the Russo-Japanese war.
  4. Awarded posthumously in 2001, Roosevelt is the only US president to receive the Medal of Honor. Roosevelt distinguished himself with acts of bravery in the Spanish American war in 1898.
  5. Roosevelt’s Big Stick Diplomacy leveraged US military might to protect threatened countries in North and South America. His “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” foreign policy set in motion a legacy of US influence on a global scale. 

Given stories about his many detractors, it’s unlikely that he casually skipped along Pennsylvania Avenue with a merry band saying, “Hey, I’ve got an idea for the Grand Canyon and spending money on a ditch in Central America,” with everyone standing up and cheering.

No, Roosevelt’s resolve is a study in resilience and any one of his accomplishments is even more remarkable by today’s standards. While political foes were legion, Roosevelt had a formidable single challenge he summed up in one sentence:

“I can be president of the United States or I can attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both.”

Roosevelt’s daughter Alice was a national distraction as she was often sighted smoking cigarettes in public, chewing gun, wearing pants, riding in cars with men, placing bets with bookies and partying until the wee hours accompanied by her pet snake Emily Spinach wrapped around her arm. Ahead of her time, Alice’s carefree and energetic pursuit of all life had to offer intrigued the American public at large.

Roosevelt’s attempts to cool Alice’s antics only fueled her fire. Throughout Roosevelt’s two terms and for decades later, Alice trampled expected norms, apparently running wild until she died in 1980, 61 years after Teddy’s death. Ignoring any negative press and her dad’s pleas, Alice did as she pleased, squeezing every drop from life despite the consequences. In recalling her debaucherous years, Alice remarked, “I must admit a sense of mischief does get a hold of me from time to time. I’m a hedonist. I have an appetite for being entertained.”

Accounts of that time portray a president recurrently sparring with Alice and wrestling with her public escapades, detractions from his presidential obligations. A quick wit, Alice could be hounded for comments to stain the president, such as, “He wants to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral, and the baby at every christening.”

While Roosevelt loved his daughter, she was a source of internal friction and vexing frustrations. 

And so it is in business. Often, beating a competitor is a temporary battle with an outcome determined by resources. An internal battle is entirely a different matter. Sometimes, such battles start at the inception of a business and challenge it across time.

Recognizing the source of challenges is crucial for every business manager. In the proper light, competitors are easy with the right battle plan. Resilience must be your friend with internal struggles.

Ask yourself about your own Alice, “Are external threats to your business distinguished from internal hazards?”

Mark Overbye is the CEO of Anthem Marine, as well as the chairman of USA Waterski and Wake Sports Foundation. He is also the founder of Montara Boats and Gekko Sports.

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