Eleanor Roosevelt — Her Life Lessons & Leadership Secrets
In many ways, Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most inspiring women to have ever lived. She redefined the role of the First Lady by being more active in political and civic life, instead of the traditionally accepted ‘domestic hostess’ role. Her life is full of valuable lessons and her leadership is really inspirational.
Eleanor Roosevelt was an incredible woman.
She inspired many people around the world as First Lady during the difficult years of the Great Depression and World War II. But she also had a prolific career on her own, serving as a delegate to the United Nations and as an influential newspaper columnist after the war.
Eleanor Roosevelt lived a long and richly-textured life.
She was a woman who lived with grace, dignity and a dedication to work that puts most of us to shame. They just don’t make public servants like Eleanor Roosevelt anymore. In many ways she was a pioneer. She was the first woman to speak in front of a national convention. The first woman to have a syndicated column and to earn money through lectures. In a survey by Gallup she is one of the most widely admired people of the last century.
Last but not least, Eleanor Roosevelt championed humanitarian causes throughout her life and career.
She advocated for civil rights for African Americans as First Lady. She served as the first chair of the UN Commission of Human Rights, and oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Though controversial at the time, Eleanor Roosevelt is today remembered as one of America’s most important women leaders.
In honor of her accomplishments, here are some select nuggets of wisdom culled from Eleanor Roosevelt’s work.
Eleanor has many lessons to teach, lessons about living with exuberance and integrity and love for one’s fellow man, as well as lessons about leadership. In this article I’d like to share five of her timeless lessons for making life an exciting and wonderful adventure. Let’s find out!
Lesson #1: Look Fear In The Face
What holds many people back in life, according to Eleanor Roosevelt, is fear. Fear of failure, fear of what others may think, fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of loss. Eleanor’s advice for how to conquer your fears is simple — confront them head on. Have faith in yourself that you will persevere. Know that you will emerge from the current crisis even stronger.
In other words, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Developing courage is liberating — it enables you to confront the risky unknown and act towards a better future. It empowers you to take responsibility and take action, rather than feeling powerless and paralyzed. Being overwhelmed by fear is having an exaggerated view of the situation. This robs the leader of the capacity to think rationally about the situation with a view to taking the appropriate actions to redress it. The fact is that without subjecting the situation to profound reflection the likelihood of getting out of the rut becomes low. So, throwing up the arms in surrender in the face of fear will not change the situation. If anything, it could worsen the situation and compound the problem.
If you want to build confidence in yourself then nothing is better than facing your fear and doing something you think you cannot do.
This is of course also something that can be greatly uncomfortable or downright scary too. So people tend to often want to avoid these kinds of situations. But there is no avoiding them if you want to build your mental strength, just like there is no avoiding spending hours upon hours in the gym or with doing some kind of exercise to build your physical strength. Making decisions confidently, having a positive outlook, setting goals and assuming you will be successful are just a few habits. This can help you stop fear in its tracks. Remember, if you think you can’t accomplish something, you probably won’t.
The fear of failing is ultimately one that every leader experiences (and some quite often).
It’s unavoidable mainly because when you’re challenging yourself to keep raising the bar and taking risks, failing is a likely outcome. That said, failing itself isn’t important or symbolic, it’s what you do next that matters all the most. Failure is inevitable so there’s no point fearing it. So go ahead and make mistakes, but own them and learn from them. Failures don’t necessarily mean the demise of your leadership. Treat them as opportunities to bounce back stronger.
Nobody wants to follow a coward. And it’s that simple. It takes courage to lead.
Courage means strength of character; to push forward in the face of resistance. Strength of character for new thinking, new ideas, challenges to status quo. Courage is saying what others may not want to hear, and holding the line on performance and behavior expectations. It’s doing the right thing, even when doing right can leave a mark. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is confronting your fears and overcoming them. Courageous leaders face their fears, step up, and charge ahead, knowing that accelerating through the fear is the very cure for fear itself.
Lesson #2: Life Is What You Make It
Taking control of your life may seem like an unfathomable mystery, but actually the steps to making it happen are simple and straightforward — if you’re prepared to have an open mind and do the work. And if you are, and you’re ready to let go of the things that are holding you back and step up to life, you’ll find that life will step up to meet you.
When things get on top of you, sometimes all you want to do is hide under the duvet, and hope that all your problems will somehow go away.
At the very least, you won’t have to face them. But hiding from your problems won’t solve anything, so you have to find the courage to acknowledge the situation. Knowledge is power, and you can’t fix things if you don’t understand what’s going on. When you arm yourself with the information of where you are right now, you’re already one step closer to being somewhere better. It can be frightening at first, but you’ll find it liberating when you get to grips with exactly where you are — and it might not even be as bad as you feared.
How many of us, when faced with obstacles and suffering, give up and sulk?
A key lesson we can learn from Eleanor Roosevelt is to learn to pick ourselves up and use the pain and scars of our life as a stimulus to enable us to make a difference. She chose to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. We can do likewise. Taking control of your life involves taking responsibility for yourself and any aspect of your life. This involves staying associated with your beliefs and dream and giving yourself valuable objectives. You get more successful and more confident as you take control of your life.
You will need to be able to make decisions and adhere to them to have full control of your life.
Some will be insignificant, others more important, but all need to be addressed head-on. Along the way you can find help and support from people close to you or not so close to you in the world or even in time. But in the end and in the long run your life and what you do with it is your responsibility. That responsibility can sometimes feel heavy. But also bring a liberating sense of freedom and of truly taking charge of yourself and what happens in your life.
Finally, accepting responsibility builds trust and confidence in others.
People put their trust in those who make tough decisions and then own the outcome. There is no quicker way to lose people’s trust then to take an action or decision, and then pin the blame on someone or something else when it fails. And since there is very little we can accomplish in life without the trust and cooperation of others, it is very important that we acknowledge our role in the outcome of events that we have influenced.
Lesson #3: Never Stop Learning
One of the most important skills we must develop and refine throughout our lives, is the ability to learn. In her books, Eleanor Roosevelt does not mean book learning, per se. She means a curiosity for understanding the meaning of things; a desire to form ideas and opinions from information; a sense of adventure and openness to new experiences; and an appreciation for learning from the people whom we encounter throughout daily life.
As times change, so do societal values. Stay open-minded and routinely reevaluate your core ideals.
As she emerged as a political figure in her own right after her husband was stricken with polio in 1921, Eleanor Roosevelt took every opportunity she possibly could that came her way. In fact, one of the more difficult things for her to do as she grew into being this great lady was say no, afraid she would miss-out on some life changing experience. She knew first-hand about the brevity of life and lived one filled with rich experiences, but more importantly, she enriched others’ along the way.
Curiosity is one of the main traits that drive people who seem to cut through the clutter and wind up with more opportunities and more trajectory.
Curiosity makes us think. The unending quest for answers is what motivates us to learn. When you have a burning question in mind, and you chase down the answer until you quench your curiosity, it not only adds new knowledge to your intellectual library, but also trains you to be light on your feet, with the agility to get out of your comfort zone. That helps make you a better leader and person. Keep in mind that curiosity is not an external tool that you can plug in only when you need it. It needs to be an internal habit ingrained into your daily lifestyle.
Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
When we think of an ideal leader, we often conjure the image of a confident, secure, assertive individual who is not afraid to make decisions and lay down a direction for their unit. Because of this perception, openness to new ideas, approaches, or suggestions by others is an overlooked and underrated managerial skill. Open-mindedness, however, can be an asset to leaders. When we are open to ideas, we are more willing to consider creative, innovative, or novel approaches. Leaders who are open-minded tend to be more self-aware, trusted by their employees, and interested in developing their skills.
Leaders mistakenly rely on the skills they trust the most — the things they know they do well.
But if you speak to most successful leaders, you’ll discover that they’re constantly pushing themselves in new directions and learning new skills. They make personal development a priority — and if you aren’t doing the same, your leadership is not as effective as it could be. Think of it this way: if you only keep repeating what you know doing what you know how to do, eventually you’re not going to get the results you need. And with no other resources to turn to, you’ll be stuck.
Lesson #4: Create Movements
According to Eleanor Roosevelt, success is not about money, power, or fame — it’s actually about the impact you make and your contribution to the world. Many people who are solely focused on financial and career success are unhappy. On the other hand, people who had a lasting impact on the world are considered much greater success, even if they lived a life of modest means.
Eleanor Roosevelt revolutionized community building by creating movements.
She was a powerful advocate of social justice and civil rights, and she also encouraged her husband to appoint more women to federal positions. As First Lady, she held numerous female-only press conferences in a time when women were banned from such events in the White House. For 27 years, beginning 1935, she wrote a column six days a week called My Day, which was syndicated across 62 newspapers and engaged a readership of four million people. In total, she wrote 8,000 columns, authored 27 books, and delivered around 1,400 speeches during her time in public service.
Eleanor Roosevelt very wisely used the formal authority of her position to fight for what she believed in.
She saw the position of First Lady as a channel to expand on the work she was already passionate about. For instance, to support the empowerment of women, she instituted a women-only rule for her press conferences. This forced the newspapers of the day to keep female reporters on staff so they could cover those events. Are you using your position as a leader in a meaningful way? To become a leader that is respected and admired, stand up for beliefs and causes that are important to you, and use your position in a positive way to bring about change.
No matter what you do, some people will have one opinion or another. You can never please everyone so don’t go down that path because it will only lead you to live a life that is unhappier than it needs to be.
Instead, do what you deep down think is the right thing. Besides taking steps towards what you want you’ll also raise your self-esteem and you’ll feel good about yourself. This is terrific combination. And that raise in self-esteem will over time make you less sensitive to other people’s criticism and make it easier to stand up for yourself and your actions in your own mind even if someone wants to make you feel inferior.
In essence leadership is about causing movement of people and situations.
To be able to cause movement of people and situations is to have an ability to move all things. The ability to move people and situations is synonymous with leadership. Movement leadership develops narrative as a way to access, express, and cultivate emotional resources embedded in shared values — resources that are necessary to confront challenges with courage, resilience, and agency. Through narrative, the motivational values that define individual identity, group identity, and an urgent need to act can be experientially articulated as a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now.
Lesson #5: Be Your Own Best Friend
If you want to stop wasting your life seeking for something you wanted – and had — all along, you need to wake up. You need to realize that becoming your own best friend is not simply a bunch of fluffy, feel-good self-improvement talk, but an actual life and death matter. Sound a tad drastic and dramatic? It is.
If you don’t wake up and truly assimilate the importance of becoming your own best friend, you will continue to suffer dreadfully in life.
Without taking charge of your life and becoming your own best friend, you will continue to feel the pain of rejection, the pain of loneliness, the pain of shame, the pain of self-disgust, and the pain of abandonment. You will continue to unconsciously believe yourself to be terrible, to be unworthy, to be an unlovable person. The longest relationship you will ever have in the history of your life is with yourself. Therefore, it’s up to you to labor over and cultivate the strength and depth of connection you have with yourself.
There’s no way I’m suggesting you replace your friends.
If you’re at all like me, it took you decades to cultivate a chump-free lifestyle, and we all need people to talk about the last TV show with over pizza and whiskey, OK? But knowing how to support yourself will help you feel more centered, independent, and able to actually enjoy yourself when you’re spending time with the people you love. If you only spend time alone when no one else is available, you’re settling for your own company rather than choosing it. Other people are constantly benefiting from your energy, kindness or humor, which can leave nothing for you.
Don’t forget to take good care of yourself.
We know self-care is important, treat yourself as you would your best friend. Let yourself rest when you need to rest, eat well, and be gentle with yourself. When you’re feeling great, you have all the inner power you need to tackle whatever comes your way in each day. That said, being your own best friend means being honest with yourself. So start being honest here, do you treat everyone better than you do yourself? If so, then it’s time to start doing some things for yourself first. Of course stopping being so self-critical is important here but so is celebrating all your wins, no matter how small. Acknowledging your strengths, talents, make a list and create a treats and reward list, but most importantly use it to celebrate you.
Last but not least, being a friend to yourself involves adopting and mastering the art of self-compassion.
Compassion isn’t forceful or solution-focused. Compassion is accepting, peaceful, and loving, without the need to control or change anything. Self-compassion is the practice of being compassionate to yourself. Self-compassion can be a challenge when you are used to being critical and unkind toward yourself. You can learn to be a good friend to yourself with practice. One way to begin to do this is intentionally shifting your self-talk to a more compassionate space. Your relationship with yourself is crucial to your confidence, mood, and ability to show care and love. By creating a positive and compassionate attitude toward yourself you can see monumental shifts in your life.
Eleanor Roosevelt never lost faith in humanity. In spite of having had to taste the bitterness of the death of her family early in her life, she always loved people, treasured friendships and remained faithful to her calling to make this world a better place. We too, can be like Eleanor and set in motion a chain of events that will enable a brave new world to be birthed.
Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the world’s most widely incredible and influential woman of her time.
Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the office of the First Lady, as well as the way Americans viewed the role of women in public life. She continues to inspire people of all backgrounds and political persuasions to strive for the greatness that’s within us all. Remember: The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.
Not all dreams will be realized in your lifetime, but if the desire is there and you share those dreams with others they will continue to be chased.
In her teens Eleanor Roosevelt was full of dreams and hopes, which became dormant while she was a young wife raising a family. In her forties, those dreams were reignited and led to her becoming the most influential first lady in history, and the first female delegate to be appointed to the United Nations. Even after her death, Eleanor Roosevelt’s dreams for world peace, prosperity, and equality continue to be fought for.
All we have to do is be a leader that stands up to the wrongs of this world, and to create a movement to slowly change our world for the better!
Which Eleanor Roosevelt lessons were your favorite? Do you have any other inspirational Eleanor Roosevelt lesson to add? Let me know in the comment section below. Also, don’t forget to share the post with your friends and followers. I hope you were inspired by these Eleanor Roosevelt lessons and thank you for visiting my website!
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