“Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” -Abraham Lincoln
If anyone knew the hard road to success, it was Abraham Lincoln. If you haven’t looked at his resume, you are missing out on one of the greatest comeback stories in American history.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Failed in business at 21 years old
- Defeated in a legislative race at 22 years old
- Failed again in business at 24 years old
- Lost the love of his life to illness at 26 years old
- Had a nervous breakdown at 27 years old
- Lost a congressional race at 34 years old
- Lost a congressional race at 36 years old
- Lost a senatorial race at 45 years old
- Failed in an effort to become vice-president at 47 years old
- Lost a senatorial race at 47 years old
- Elected President of the United States at 52 years old
Abraham Lincoln also suffered from debilitating depression. He was very open about it and shared his thoughts of suicide with his top advisors.
One of his advisors described Lincoln as, ”one of the most diffident and plagued men I ever saw.” How did a man who was plagued with depression and who appeared to be such a, well…perpetual loser, change the world?
First, he believed that he had a purpose. Thinking of death so frequently led Lincoln to understand his own mortality. As a result, it became important to him that he accomplish something important before he died.
He believed that he had a higher purpose, and it was this “calling” on his life that gave him a reason to live. Ending slavery and preserving the Union became his central goal and purpose. This was his motivation to take action.
Secondly, Lincoln practiced what he preached. He was committed to his future and he understood that motivation can only take you so far.
What do you do when motivation runs out? What do you do when the losses start piling up? He knew that if he was going to win, it would require disciplined habits.
He committed to reaching his goals by taking control of his thoughts and actions despite his crippling depression and mounting losses.
Here are some of his most famous habits:
He was a ferocious reader: From the time he was a young man, he saw the value of learning. As a young farmer, he was famous for borrowing books when he could not afford them and reading late into the night. He would get up early in the morning and read his Bible. He said, “I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” He was committed to his personal growth, and this habit changed history.
He practiced humility: It is hard to find a more humble figure in American history than Lincoln. Even when he was President, he preferred to be called Lincoln or Mr. Lincoln in place of the more formal Mr. President. He never felt comfortable with giving victory speeches. He did not like talking about his accomplishments and often changed the subject back to the other person.
He took immediate action: He once said, “leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.” His cabinet knew him to be a man of action. He believed that taking action today was a catalyst to creating a better future. He was quoted as saying, “ The best thing about the future is that it only comes one day at a time.” He believed that we create the future one thought, one action, and one day at a time.
He persevered: If there is an overarching story of Lincoln’s life, without question, it is a story about perseverance. He was a man of vision. He had an undeniable vision for his life, his family, and the United States of America. He faced numerous defeats, family tragedies, and endless criticism. He once said, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” He consistently showed up regardless of what he was personally dealing with. He understood that there was too much at stake even when there didn’t appear to be much at stake in the moment. This prepared him to preserve even when faced with earth shattering losses.
He also committed to being genuine and kind to everyone, ignoring his critics, and being optimistic regardless of how he felt. As a result, he changed the course of history and became the winningest loser in American history.
What about you? What do you do when the motivation runs out? What do you do when it appears that you are running on fumes? What do you do when things get challenging? Is your story a story of overcoming or is it a story of quitting and restarting? You have everything it takes to be successful. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we have what it takes to win. Everything that was in Lincoln is inside of you. You just have to decide to commit to a vision for your life and show up everyday and do the work of fulfilling that vision. You have what it takes.
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