How A Farm Boy Used His Greatest Struggle To Massive Success.
Change your perspective. Change your life.
The year was 1858 when a tall man with long limbs and a gaunt face walked up to the podium to address the Illinois Republican Convention in Springfield.
His face carried an air of gloom. Something he was known for by now.
He had been nominated for United States Senator the day before. Many expected an acceptance speech. They got something else entirely.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”
His message was that of a warning. One to shock everyone there back into reality.
Some had their heads in the clouds and some had them in the sand. The nation was in crisis and what it needed was someone to speak plainly and with conviction.
The issue was slavery. The man was Abraham Lincoln.
His speech would rattle the Republicans at the time. Many of them found it too blunt. Too radical.
Yet, it would catapult Lincoln into the national conversation. It would land him the presidential nomination and the presidency itself.
But it makes you wonder.
How did a farm boy, with generic looks, little charisma, and little education find his way to the most powerful seat in the United States?
A Bitter Curse. A Profound Blessing.
Considered America’s wisest president, Lincoln made a great impact on the country.
In his term, he went to war to preserve a united country, fought to free slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation, gave the poor a chance at owning land and created our national currency.
His life didn’t come without its struggles though.
He lost jobs, his business, and numerous different elections between 1830 and 1860 when he went into the white house.
The greatest of those: Depression.
A “weakness” that led him to entertain ideas of suicide more than once. One that often robbed him of any joy.
There were many seasons where he found it hard to continue on in face of indifference.
To withstand a overwhelming sadness that caused him an “Intensity of thought, which will some times wear the sweetest idea thread-bare and turn it to the bitterness of death.”
One particular letter to a colleague is quite telling:
“I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.”
I believe many of you reading this know what it feels like to loose all hope. To feel crushed by the weight of pain and danger of apathy.
Even reading these words reminds me of my own struggle with depression and how deeply lonely it can feel.
And yet in grip of that struggle, close to death, I found a reason to live.
Accepting Your Weakness. Finding Your Strength.
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” — Abraham Lincoln
In the 1840’s, Lincoln’s hit rock bottom. He wasn’t afraid to die. He saw it as a reasonable solution.
In the midst of that pain and despair, he also saw he had an, “Irrepressible desire to live till I can be assured that the world is a little better for my having lived in it.”
And it was that need that finally gave him a clear reason to live.
From there on out, he resolved to accept his WHOLE self, depression and all, and endure his affliction.
There was no end to his ailment.
No magic elixir or self-help remedy to flush it out. It became a part of who he was. It’s why we know him as the man with a gloomy temperament.
Instead, acceptance enabled him to find strategies to contain it and counter the weight of it. To start his own journey of personal growth much like all of us do.
Now, that may not sound inspiring to you.
It may even sound anti-climatic. But for Lincoln, it became life-changing. His perspective had changed.
His weakness exposed him as a constant failure. It was indefinite. He knew no matter how hard he tried, he could only be better, not cured.
But it also revealed him to be a constant success. He could constantly look back to each previous day and marvel at his refusal to be destroyed by it once again.
Slowly, his struggle gave way to his strengths.
He came to know a humility that enabled him to sit with harsh truths no matter the unease it brought.
It gave him piercing clarity and rare insight into issues many didn’t want to deal with it. These gifts allowed him to wrestle with the great problems of his time.
It is the reason he stood up at that podium in 1858 and spoke a prophecy that would become truth.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
This was not a politician looking to simply win an election. This wasn’t a man looking to speak clever words.
This was a broken soul sharing hard-earned wisdom viciously gained from his own life.
People listened because they could literally feel his brutal honesty. His naked vulnerability. His unsparing judgment.
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” — Napoleon Hill
Lincoln saw in himself the same thing he saw in America. We can’t live a full life with half our hearts.
We must be WHOLE. That requires the good and the bad.
It’s why a man, whose sadness “dripped from him as he walked,” could go on to become the President as well as the model for wisdom and leadership.
In my last article, I wrote about our refusal to just be ourselves.
The truth is, some of us feel more pain. Some of us hurt deeper. Some of us struggle to get out of bed.
On the other hand, some of us always see the bright side. Some of us never slow down, sticking our heads in the sand even when a dose of reality is desperately needed.
Each struggle gives way to growth.
We have been taught to see weakness as something to discard rather than utilize.
It’s hard to look back on the days where I feel crushed by my pain. Rough to think back to the moments where my heart is completely ripped open and exposed. Feeling small. Feeling Lost.
Yet those same memories are the reason I am living today. The reason I feel moments of joy and happiness. The reason I fight to be my best self.
They help me find gratitude for the same people that hurt me. They help me love others in ways I simply couldn’t before. They push me towards new success each day.
This is the challenge of life itself.
To be broken down by our weaknesses to our most vulnerable selves. To feel the sting of our most piercing insecurities.
And then, if we choose it, to be built back up. To be made stronger, wiser and more capable than we ever previously thought possible.
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