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Lessons Learned from Failure

Lincoln's Lessons on Failure

Lessons Learned from FailureWith the stress of the pandemic and the problems they created for many small business owners, unfortunately failure is now too common a fact of life. But when I think about failure, I simultaneously think about success. Perhaps it's because I put a face to the words and that face is of Abraham Lincoln. He was born on February 12, 1809, and his birthday used to be a separate holiday. Around the day of his birthday is still good time to reflect on what his words and actions have to teach us today about experiencing failure and striving for success.

About Lincoln

Lincoln was, perhaps, the most successful President that the United States of America ever had. He saved the United States, helped to abolished slavery, and spoke some of the most memorable words in U.S. history, including the Gettysburg address. Survey after survey on presidents put him at the very top or near top. I’d call that success. But history shows that he is a case study in failure. Consider the following:

  • He was defeated for Illinois state legislator in 1832.
  • He started a business only to see it go under. It was a store in New Salem, Illinois. His partner died and he could not sustain the business. He eventually paid off all of the business’ debts.
  • He lost his run for Congress in 1843 and again in 1848.
  • He lost his bid to become a U.S. Senator in 1855.
  • He ran for Vice President of the U.S. in 1856 and lost.
  • He again ran for the U.S. Senate in 1859 and lost yet again.

The lesson here: Aim high and persevere. Despite his failures, he pressed on and had numerous successes. He had a successful law practice. He got a patent for a device for “buoying vessels over shoals.” He was honored in 1992 by the Wrestling Hall of Fame because he only lost one of his 300 matches. And, as everyone knows, he ran successfully for President in 1860 and again in 1864. While in office, he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation and kept the union together.

Famous quotations by Lincoln

I’m inspired by many of his statements which are relevant to small business owners:

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”
“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well”

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other thing.”

“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 your life.”

“It often requires more courage to dare to do right than to fear to do wrong.”

“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.”

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

“I have a congenital aversion to failure.”

“Most folks are about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

Final thought

It’s always difficult to remain positive when there’s so much negativity abounding. Still, Lincoln’s lessons are a way to remain optimistic and continue to work for success.

Portions of the above were excerpted from my book Smooth Failing.

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