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Lincoln : A lesson in Resilience

If you are struggling to establish a career or build a business in challenging times the story of Abraham Lincoln should be an inspiration.

I recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book ‘Lincoln (team of rivals)’ for it’s depiction of how Lincoln, from humble beginnings, rose to the highest office in the land, overcoming many setbacks along the way and leading America through the most turbulent period in it’s history.

Some tips for developing resilience during challenging times, inspired by the life & times of Abraham Lincoln are :

1. Find a worthy cause. The stronger your sense of purpose and passion for what you are striving to achieve the less likely you will be to give in to feelings of despondency. You must feel that the end goal is worthy of your efforts. Lincoln’s anti slavery stance and strong feelings about the ‘rightness’ of the cause sustained him through a number of electoral defeats.

2. Know and accept yourself.  Be self aware, leveraging off your strengths and accepting that it is only human to have weaknesses and to make mistakes. Lincoln was reflective and self aware.

3. Live by your values. It can be tempting to take short cuts and compromise your values in a crisis, but this will store up difficulties for the future. While Lincoln was a ‘shrewd operator’ he was in essence a principle led politician.

4. Maintain a strong work ethic. There is no substitute for hard work and dedication. Take positive action every day to move forward. Lincoln had a very strong work ethic both as a politician and a lawyer.

5. Be eternally curious. Lincoln had little by way of formal education to begin with but had a lifelong interest in learning and in what we would today call ‘self development’.

6. Take ‘setbacks’ in your stride. With the passage of time what you judge to be a ‘setback’ may with hindsight prove to be the seed of ultimate success. How you deal with a setback is more important than the event itself. Lincoln acquired admirers and supporters from the magnanimous manner in which he accepted electoral defeats.

7.  Develop a number of supportive relationships, with whom you can confide, and who can be ‘there for you’  when times are challenging. Lincoln had a number of close confidents who were with him throughout his life.

8. Stay ambitious. Don’t let difficulties cause you to limit your ambitions or accept a smaller version of yourself. Don’t allow others to define who you are. Lincoln lacked the social advantages of his rivals for the Presidency but this did not lessen his determination.

9. Be humble. Stay grounded and don’t take yourself too seriously. While Lincoln was ambitious for personal success he lived a modest lifestyle and was self effacing.

10. Don’t hold grudges. It can be easy to blame others when things turn out differently to your expectations or what you judge to be ‘fair’, but remember that whatever others ‘do to you’ it is never personal. Lincoln appointed several former political foes to his cabinet, simply because they were the best for the job.

11. Nurture a sense of humour. This will endear you to others and will help you maintain a sense of perspective. Lincoln was a great story teller and loved to laugh at his own jokes !

12. Accept changing realities and be comfortable with uncertaintyStay focused in the now, do what you can do to improve the situation, and ‘let go’ of the rest. All great leaders have this capacity.

There is no guarantee that doing all of the above will deliver worldly success, but it is a great recipe for effective coping, and it is comforting to know that those whom we regard as role models of success have had dark days, which they successfully navigated.


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