The opposite of success is often thought to be failure, which is completely untrue. The opposite of success is not failure—the opposite of success is quitting. And Abraham Lincoln is the definition of one who never quit and lived a life of persistence and integrity.
In the spirit of what would be Abraham Lincoln's 209th birthday, I think a quick recap of his remarkable life of overcoming hardship and failure is in order:
Born into poverty, Lincoln entered the world on February 12, 1809 near Hodgenville, Kentucky.
In 1816, Lincoln's family was forced out of their home and off their property because of a land dispute, hence they moved to Indiana.
In 1818, Lincoln's mom Nancy died from milk sickness, after their cow's milk became toxic from feeding on poisonous white snakeroot plants.
In 1828, Lincoln's older sister Sarah, who took care of Lincoln following their mother's death, died after giving birth to a stillborn child.
In 1832, Lincoln and a partner bought a general store, in an attempt to be small business owners. The business struggled and then failed. Lincoln was forced to sell his shares and it took many years to pay off his remaining debt.
Also in 1832, Lincoln began his political career by running for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. He lost, mainly attributed to his lack of money, influential association, and education (his father did not support formal education).
In 1835, Lincoln's first love, Ann Rutledge, who was destined to be his bride, died of Typhoid fever.
In 1836, Lincoln was on the verge of a total mental collapse triggered by intense self-educating and development of his law practice—not to mention the deaths from those around him from a typhoid epidemic—no doubt reminding him of family members he lost years prior.
In 1837, Lincoln's marriage proposal to Mary Owens was declined.
In 1838, Lincoln sought to become Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and was defeated.
In 1841, Lincoln fell into depression after breaking off his engagement to Mary Todd, who he had been courting for a couple of years (they later got married in 1842).
In 1842, Lincoln was challenged to a sword duel by James Shields over a publication of letters that taunted Shields.
In 1846, Lincoln ran for the US House of Representatives and won, but he was not reelected to the position.
In 1848, Lincoln supported General Zachary Taylor for presidency with the hopes of being appointed Commissioner of the General Land Office. When Taylor became president, he rejected Lincoln's desire and instead offered Lincoln an unwanted position that would have destroyed Lincoln's legal and political career. Lincoln declined the offer and went back to practicing law in Illinois.
In 1855, Lincoln ran for the United States Senate. Seeing he was not going to win, he channeled his supporters to a different candidate.
In 1856, Lincoln received votes for vice presidency but he did not receive the vice presidential nomination.
In 1858, Lincoln again ran for the United States Senate. And even though he won the popular vote, he again lost because vote majority did not guarantee victory.
And in 1860, Lincoln was elected president of the United States.
Time and time again, Abraham Lincoln is considered one of our nation's best presidents. Whether it is due to his perseverance to continually pick himself up from emotional hardship, or his brilliance in navigating through the world of law and politics, or enduring the tremendous pressures to keep our nation together when overwhelming forces wished to tear it apart, it is safe to say that Mr. Abraham Lincoln was an incredible human that leaned in to any scenario thrown his way. How? Well, I'm sure a ton of courage had something to do with it.
We each have encountered successes. And we have each encountered failures. Most likely our failures outnumber the successes. That is where courage comes in. Courage is the ability to rise again from our failures and press on.
We each have talents within us that remain untapped. The secret is to give everything our best shot and to move forward courageously. People may be impressed by our success, but people are impacted by the lessons from our failures. And from our experienced failures, we are prone to make better decisions in the future.
It is said that it is lonely at the top. And considering the position Lincoln held as president, I cannot even begin to comprehend the weight he carried on his shoulders. As a leader, he had no room for mistakes. Despite being criticized for decisions he made, he courageously remained true to his ideals and lead our country through some of its darkest times.
In closing, it is probably best to end with a Lincoln quote. Here is a particular gem that seems amazingly appropriate:
"Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did. On the contrary, if you falter, and give up, you will lose the power of keeping any resolution, and will regret it all of your life. Take the advice of a friend, who, though he never saw you, deeply sympathizes with you, and stick to your purpose." (Letter to Quintin Campbell in 1862)
Happy Birthday Abe.