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Lincoln’s Response to (Epic) Failure
#695

“I must die or be better.”

video

​​In our last +1, we talked about the wonderful little book-gift I received from Cal Newport and we reflected on a particular passage from that book (Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin) that really jumped out and grabbed me.
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​​The essence of that passage?
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​​Our presidential luminaries differed in many ways. But they ALL shared a “fierce ambition.”
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​​Of the heroic kind.
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​​Today I’d like to talk about another passage from the book. This one’s from page 106. I actually STARTED reading the book on this page because, in his thoughtful gift note, Cal told me that the wisdom on that particular page made him think of me and of our recent chats.
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​​Here’s how page 106 starts: “What fired in Lincoln this furious and fertile time of self-improvement? The answer lay in his readiness to gaze in the mirror and soberly scrutinize himself. Taking stock, he found himself wanting. From the beginning, young Lincoln aspired to nothing less than to inscribe his name into the book of communal memory. To fulfill what he believed to be his destiny, a different kind of sustained effort and discipline was required, a willingness to confront weakness and imperfection, reflect upon failure, and examine the kind of leader he wanted to be.”
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​​The passage continues: “The diligence and studiousness he exhibited during this period of introspection would have been remarkable in a young student; in a man of forty, it was astounding.
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​​Um. Yah.
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​​That’s powerful.
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​​(btw: Self-efficacy 101 style, this is one of the reasons reading biographies of great humans is such a wise thing to do—we gain strength in other people’s examples!!)
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​​That passage is from Part II of the book in which we learn about all the EXTRAORDINARY (!) challenges our heroes faced in their quests to fulfill their destinies.
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​​(Lincoln’s was dramatic. He was so depressed after letting down his constituents in Illinois after his tenure as a state legislator that his friends feared for his life and removed every sharp object from his house. ​😲​ )
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​​Fierce ambition.
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​​Equally huge failure.
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​​Then what?
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​​Then our hero doesn’t feel like a hero. He feels like ​💩​.
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​​Then what?
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​​Then he (or she) gets to work.
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​​As we’ve discussed countless times, this isn’t supposed to be easy. (And, thinking that it should be easy is probably the biggest challenge we face.)
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​​Echo: We’re not sidestepping lizards en route to our destiny. We’re battling dragons.
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​​As such, building our heroic strength for two demands a FIERCE commitment to self-improvement (Optimizing!!) to match that fierce ambition to make a difference.
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​​As Lincoln said, “I must die or be better.
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​​Today’s +1.
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​​How about YOU?