And This Part Of The River

In summer 1894 Theodore Roosevelt was in a low point of his career, so low, in fact, that he was considering seeking the position of Commissioner of Street Cleaning in New York City. Less than 36 months later, he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy and, more importantly, had commenced the entirely new expertise of what we would call “national security advisor” and “geopolitical strategist.”

Take a pause and think about the above paragraph. From the leadership of local street cleaning department to leadership in global strategic thinking, in under three years.

That’s Roosevelt in his office in the Department of the Navy. (notice the phone on his desk)

What stands out to you about this story?

For me, I’m captivated by mental attitude in making the leap. Not only was Roosevelt vaulting into a completely different stratosphere, he was doing so in a position that essentially didn’t exist, that of geo-political strategist. In a way, he demonstrated a strong entrepreneurial impulse, at least in a creative sense.

So, remember the two big parts—the leap from here to there and the leap into something totally new.

Roosevelt made his own way as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He’d spent much of the previous fifteen years reading history, literature, current events. He’d also written about them to a great extent. He melded that knowledge into an understanding of the world around him and what he saw as the American position in that world. He was ready to start a job that didn’t exist.

Similarly, Roosevelt embodied an optimistic, can-do spirit. His parents had forged in him a confidence that he could do anything. He reinforced that confidence with an inner drive to improve himself physically and intellectually.

Roosevelt had advantages, to be sure. His family had money and contacts. They lived in a location that placed them in the middle of many influential people and events. He wasn’t living a rag-to-riches, up-by-the-bootstraps story.

Nevertheless, Roosevelt’s leap is remarkable. I think it should bolster you if you’re facing the possibility of launching into the unknown.

After all, the director of garbage collecting became the shaper of geo-political strategy.