The Strenuous Life (of bankers)

Lessons for today from a century in the past

From then NY Governor Teddy Roosevelt's 1899 speech

“To preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man+ who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, April 10, 1899

As the Thanksgiving holiday descends on us and we begin to close out what has been an interesting year in banking, to say the least, it’s worth taking a moment of reflection.

Why do you do what you do?

Why are you in the job you are in? Why did you do all the things you did today (or a typical work day)? What is your motivation, your reason for all of it, your Ikigai?

If you’re not sure or don’t like the answers, consider how you might alter those responses. Are you overcome with pessimism? Do you find that you’re not connected to a real purpose or meaningful mission?

For community financial institutions, you can often find the kernel of purpose no further than your own charter or website. Think about your own experience. Where might you find that sliver of excitement or spark from a story told around the dinner table? How confident are your answers to questions like:

  • Why does our institution exist in the first place?
  • How we’ve helped our customers, members, and communities?
  • What help will they continue to need in the near future?

Being true to those ideals, the “why” of what we do, is an essential touchstone during difficulty.

For everyone working today, the tumultuous time from 2020 to 2022 is a recent memory, whether you were already working or soon to graduate. Facing a difficult period in career and life often exposes cracks in ourselves. It’s also an opportunity to embrace difficulty, to better weather the storm.

“Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation, provided we are certain that the strife is justified, for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.”

For Roosevelt, these were not just idle words. Despite personal and political flaws, he very much “walked-the-walk” on this ideal. His life was spiked with conflict and adventure, from overcoming childhood sickness to voluntary military service to continuing a speech after a nearly successful assassination attempt and harrowing exploration well into retirement.

Facing what may be an even more challenging new year, it would do us, our industry, and the communities we serve service to think about how we will face difficulties and avoid “a life of ignoble ease.”

The full text of the speech can be read here.

  • Roosevelt presented the speech to a men’s club in Chicago in the 19th century. We can probably look past what might be an objectionable use of pronouns to a modern reader.

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