Teddy Roosevelt: Do What You Can, With What You Have, Where You Are
Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
I feel that for many of us, this quote is a much-needed wake-up call: stop searching for the better option — especially in these uncertain times.
And it’s an important reminder for me as well.
For as long as I can remember, I kept rushing forward, coming up with new ideas, starting businesses, quitting businesses, always looking for something that would make me finally say, “Ok. This is it.”
This is why I’ve started startup after startup. The moment I felt it was hard, I would quit.
Similarly, I started a relationship after relationship. Always looking for the “right partner” that would complement my strengths and cover my weaknesses.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with my life — and where my career is headed. I also started to have problems with my partner, with whom I’ve been in a relationship for more than three years now.
I realized that all I want is to do showbusiness — to be a performer, to entertain, inspire, and give people pleasant emotions and new insights through different mediums (TV, radio, text).
And immediately, my mind started thinking, “Ok. So, what new project should I come up with? What new job should I look for? What new thing should I seek?”
But then I remembered that quote by Teddy and realized: I don’t need to look for anything else.
Everything I need is already here. I have the right projects. I have the right partner.
All I need is to make use of what I’ve got.
Do What You Can
We often worry about not being good enough to do the job we want to be doing. Ira Glass calls this “the gap” — between what we want to do (our taste) and what we’re currently capable of.
This gap is natural. It’s what plagues every young professional. We look at famous people in our fields — the Seth Godins, Stephen Colberts, Leonardo DiCaprio — and think, “Gosh. I wish I were that talented.”
But talent is overrated. Skill, discipline, and hard work will beat talent every single time.
In fact, these successful people you know got where they are simply because they did what they could, where they were, with what they had. And moved forward.
“I wish somebody told me this when I was just starting,” said Ira. “The only way you can close that gap is through lots of work.”
With What You Have
What are your current resources?
Perhaps, it’s the projects you’re working on. Perhaps, it’s the people you’re working with. Perhaps, it’s the money you’ve got in the bank.
Being unhappy about all of these things is easy. What’s hard is actually deciding to go forward, regardless of your limitations.
Chances are, you can do something with what you’ve already got. People who achieve success use their immediate environment and start building momentum instead of waiting for the perfect moment when they have money.
Don’t have money to build a business? Loan some. Don’t have the skill to write blog posts that make money? Write poorly and get better with time. Being grateful for what you have — where your point A is — is the first step to moving forward, to points B and beyond.
Limitations are always there. But as they say, “being happy doesn’t mean you’re perfect. It just means you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.”
Where You Are
Where I am from, people moan and bitch about not being able to do the work they love. They blame the government. They blame “the people.” They blame their bosses, their stupid friends, their neighbors.
Meanwhile, nothing gets done.
I’ve noticed that it doesn’t matter where I am when I am consumed by inspiring work. Of course, it’s easy to be inspired when you have a spectacular view of the seacoast or a mountain landscape unfolding in front of you.
But it’s the sign of a wise and strong person — if you can let go of these external limitations and go inside. It’s spiritual growth.
Always remember that Viktor Frankl managed to survive the Nazi concentration camp and teach and help others. Cervantes wrote his magnum opus, Don Quixote, while in prison.
Going somewhere to do better work is like saying you need to build business cards to be in business — an excuse.
As Steven Pressfield writes in Turning Pro, “Once you turn pro, your life becomes very simple. You become monk-like.”
Pressfield himself is famously writing his desk towards the wall.
“Don’t you get inspired?” people ask him.
They don’t understand that true inspiration comes from within.
“Better” is the enemy of the “good” — that’s what they say in my country. I agree. Too often, we use our perfectionism— whether in making art or living our productive lives — as an excuse to procrastinate, but it is always a sign of insecurity.
You always have two choices: wait until the time is right, or build a life for yourself with what you’ve got right in front of you.
Make the relationship you’ve got deeper — instead of breaking everything up. Building your career further by pursuing the smallest projects you can pursue in your particular situation.
This pandemic has changed lives for many of us. In these uncertain times, remind yourself — that your task is to move forward, keeping an eye one step ahead simply.
Learn from history. It shows us that no matter the circumstances, people who went to achieve great things — did what they could, where they were, with what they had.