“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.“
These words often float in and out of my head. I suppose it is because our situation right now doesn’t feel complete. We are in the middle of law school, in the middle of life, in the middle of young children, tight finances, worn carpets, and a host of other things that feel challenging at times.
What I didn’t know for awhile was that the phrase above was attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but it felt good to know that a former president, a former explorer, a former overcomer said these things. It helps me when I wish I could change something and know that the time or situation just isn’t right for now.
I like to check Facebook to see what people are up to from time to time, but sometimes it is discouraging because it seems that people are prone to publish their successes more easily than their failures. That’s fine – it’s great to hear of others’ joys and share in them. But when you’re in the middle of parenting, where the most exciting thing on a given day might be that your two year-old kept his pants dry or you didn’t lose patience when your older two were fighting, it can be hard to not long for the seemingly more exciting parts of life.
But did you know what Theodore Roosevelt said that led up to this quote? I didn’t, but when I looked it up, I was surprised.
“There are many kinds of success in life worth having. It is exceedingly interesting and attractive to be a successful business man, or railroad man, or farmer, or a successful lawyer or doctor; or a writer, or a President, or a ranchman, or the colonel of a fighting regiment, or to kill grizzly bears and lions. But for unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison. It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone; but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching. And as for a life deliberately devoted to pleasure as an end — why, the greatest happiness is the happiness that comes as a by-product of striving to do what must be done, even though sorrow is met in the doing. There is a bit of homely philosophy, quoted by Squire Bill Widener, of Widener’s Valley, Virginia, which sums up one’s duty in life: “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.“
- Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography, 1913
If what Theodore Roosevelt said is true, that the greatest happiness comes from striving to do what must be done, even though sorrow is met in the doing, then mothers are near the front of the line for the happiness train. I have found this true in my own life – even though some tasks feel mundane, there is a sense of lightness and joy when I am smack in the middle of what I should be doing, even if it is hard.