Failure Does NOT Define You

If you've not read about or studied Abraham Lincoln, then you've not learned about one of the greatest Presidents of the United States. What is more remarkable than his achievements are his failures. He had such a profound gift of resilience. His actions showed that within every failure there was a gift, either a tool or a lesson. 

Resilience is a muscle that needs to be exercised. It also depends on how you exercise this muscle. Focusing on our self worth or our purpose makes getting back up easier. Focusing on your self worth gives you the confidence you need to restart your effort. 


In thinking about these events, we need to try to think about them as they were back then, not by our standards. 

Image by Joshua Bedford


Persistence is a muscle that needs exercise

Below is a previously published series of failures:

1816: His family was forced out of their home. He had to work to support them.

1818: His mother died.

1831: Failed in business.

1832: Ran for state legislature – lost.

1832: Also lost his job – wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in.

1833: Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt.

1834: Ran for state legislature again – won.

1835: Was engaged to be married, sweetheart died and his heart was broken.

1836: Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.

1838: Sought to become speaker of the state legislature – defeated.

1840: Sought to become elector – defeated.

1843: Ran for Congress – lost.

1846: Ran for Congress again – this time he won – went to Washington and did a good job.

1848: Ran for re-election to Congress – lost.

1849 Sought the job of land officer in his home state – rejected.

1854: Ran for Senate of the United States – lost.

1856: Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention – got less than 100 votes.

1858: Ran for U.S. Senate again – again he lost.

1860: Elected president of the United States.

While the list feels long, there were still more failures and misfortunes embedded in between these events. 


Lincoln, from a very early age had to learn to survive. When he was nine years old, his mother Nancy died in October of 1818. His father left him and his eleven year old sister alone at their cabin, while he went to Kentucky to find a new wife. They had to find food and provide for themselves.


It is unclear how long their father, Thomas Lincoln, was gone, but the travel time from where they were living to Kentucky was around 3-4 days back then. Thomas and his new wife were married 14 months after his first wife's passing.


He had very little formal education, about 12 months in aggregate. However, he had a deep love for reading which usually overcame the necessity for doing his jobs which was physical labor. His family considered him lazy because of how much reading and writing he did. 


However, it was his love of reading that helped him become a lawyer. He was rejected from law school and could not get in. He studied the law on his own in order to become a lawyer.

He outlived three of his four children. He struggled with depression throughout his life. Even at times as President, he was the most hated man in America. 


By many accepted indicators, he should not have secured his political party nomination. He had limited experience in congress, had never held another political administrative office, and had several businesses fail. He was chosen as the party nomination because he was the most moderate candidate.


We learn so much more from our failures than we do from our successes. At the same time, it feels good to succeed. I'd also like to clarify it is failing after you do your best, with the intent to improve from what you learn. 


Lincoln gives a profound example of resilience. While getting knocked down and getting backup is resilience, it starts with self worth. Having high self worth, believing in your infinite and eternal value, sets your heart and spirit back on track to get back up.

Two podcasts that you should really listen to with self-worth in mind

Real Leaders: Abraham Lincoln and The Power of Emotional Discipline

He had highs and lows, but also had resilience. Powerful reminder that self-worth is always the foundational next step to restoring confidence. Click Here

Unlikely Leadership of Abraham Lincoln

Fantastic perspective shift of the type of leader needed in uncertain times. Not every leader is fit for the challenges ahead. Lincoln's failures strengthened his compassion and empathy while leading the country. Many times, he had to stand alone in his decisions and position. Click Here

The Self Worth Institute

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