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Lessons from Abraham Lincoln, Dean of Lifelong Learning

Abraham Lincoln’s persistence and hard-work mentality has made him an inspiration for today’s lifelong learners. Photo by Matt Lemmon.

This week, I am picking up from last week’s introduction to President Abraham Lincoln, the Founding Dean of Lifelong Learning. There are some lessons all lifelong learners could glean from Abraham Lincoln, especially when it comes to persistence, dedication and honing an entrepreneurial spirit.

Didn’t fret about formalities

The President had a hard time with formalities, especially when it came to fashion. He despised dressing up in things like suits and gloves, and was much more comfortable walking barefoot around the White House (a social no-no). For this behavior Abe was constantly called names like “ogre” from the more genteel folk of the time.

So many times we’re worried about the formalities of creating a startup: hiring lawyers, moving to The Valley, thinking about scaling, getting staff in place… the list could go on. Instead of worrying about what everyone expects you to do, just start creating. All of the formalities and details will fall into place later.

Live fearlessly

Directly after the Union had taken the Confederate capitol of Richmond, Virginia at the end of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln marched with a handful of men into the capital city, the heart of the enemy’s territory. The night of his assassination at Ford’s Theatre, Lincoln denied the services of a large security detail to accompany him to play. Even though he knew he would probably be assassinated at some point, he wasn’t about to live his life in fear because of it. It was this same attitude that allowed a relatively unknown politician to run and win the office of the President.

Fear is a crippling thing, especially to the entrepreneur. There are always a billion things that could go wrong. You just might fail. But you’ll never know until you try.

Don’t avoid adversity

Lincoln never shied away from controversy. He was once quoted as saying “No matter how much the cats fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens.” And he was exactly right.  You’ll never please everyone. There will always be critics to what you do. Sticking to your guns and following your heart is what defines who you are and will shape your success in the future. At the same time, we have to be open to constructive criticism. These criticisms will help us shape and fine-tune our ideas into something better.

Don’t be afraid to fail

While this may be one of the most trumpeted aspects of Lincoln’s life, he still did fail quite a bit. “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” Failure is essential to any entrepreneur. It builds character and allows you to see what won’t work. Another famous president Teddy Roosevelt once said that “There is no effort without error and shortcoming”. It’s not until you fail that you show your true colors.

 “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.” – Abraham Lincoln

Keep Reading and Learning

Everyone knows the story of Lincoln doing his schoolwork by candlelight in his boyhood home, taking his schoolwork into his own hands. Yet many may not know that Lincoln was an avid reader [1] and took time out his stressful day to read Shakespeare and other classic literature. During the summer of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, Abe could be found with the Iliad in his hand. He knew that staying sharp meant learning about things unrelated to politics.

Lifelong learners must be persistent, robust, confident and open-minded if they hope to achieve their personal and professional goals in life. But reaching that success can have a positive impact not just on those around you, but on the whole world. Just look at Abe.

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