Lost job in 1832.
Defeated for state legislature in 1832.
Failed in business in 1833.
Elected to state legislature in 1834.
Sweetheart died in 1835.
Had nervous breakdown in 1836.
Defeated for Speaker in 1838.
Defeated for nomination for Congress in 1843.
Elected to Congress in 1846.
Lost renomination in 1848.
Rejected for land officer in 1849.
Defeated for U.S. Senate in 1854.
Defeated for nomination for Vice President in 1856.
Again defeated for U.S. Senate in 1858.
Elected President in 1860.
– Abraham Lincoln
The difference between failing and falling is getting back up. It is clear that Lincoln had many set backs, but that did not dissuade him from seeking the highest position of power. Despite all of these failures, he is seen by most as a tremendous success.
This seems to be in counter distinction to the person of Moses. He successfully liberated his people from slavery in Egypt, received the Torah at Sinai, and led his people on a 40-year journey through the desert. Yet, despite his impressive resume it seems that Moses failed to accomplish his ultimate mission of bringing the people into the Promised Land. As we read in this week’s portion, HaAzinu, Moses will not get to lead the people into the land of Israel, because he trespassed against God among the Children of Israel at the waters of Meribat-Kadesh( Deuteronomy 32:51).
If I were Lincoln, I cannot imagine not having grown averse to taking risks after having failed so many times. So too, amidst all the success of Moses, he could have stopped and become complacent and declared himself a success long before he would have been confronted by failure. While both of them were very accomplished, looking at Lincoln and Moses side by side I have to ask are we more afraid of failing or of actually succeeding?
On Yom Kippur we will spend a lot of time thinking about our failures, but I think we should allow ourselves to be challenged by Moses’s drive to success after succeeding. I think this challenge is captured in the poem by Marianne Williamson, “Our Greatest Fear”:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
Both Lincoln and Moses liberated us from slavery. While some of us need to learn from Lincoln how to recover from failure, it would serve us all well to emulate Moses and push ourselves even higher. Yes continuing to push ourselves to the limit will necessarily mean ultimately falling short, but that is hardly failure. As we start this New Year, it is important to not just focus on our failures. We should all take a moment and set a mission for the coming year. Having a clear vision of what success looks like makes all of the challenges and distractions along the way seem less relevant. I am sure that we will not succeed at everything, but with some determination we might just fall into success.