Abraham Lincoln on Failure

Be Careful What You Say When You Think You’ve Failed: Cautionary Tales from Wilbur Wright and Abraham Lincoln   By Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

Gene Griessman

In 1900, the Wright brothers left Kitty Hawk earlier than they had planned, sad and discouraged.  They had endured months of crash landings and injuries trying to make their contraption fly right.   On the way back home, Wilbur told his brother, “Not within a thousand years will man ever fly.”

There’s a similar story from the life of Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln was so disappointed with his speech at Gettysburg that he told a friend that day, “That plow won’t scow.”   Lincoln was using a farmer’s expression.  A plow that won’t scow is so dull that it won’t break the soil to make a furrow.  Yet Lincoln’s dull plow of a speech has come to be known as The Gettysburg Address.

What do these stories have in common?

Neither Wilbur Wright nor Abraham Lincoln fully understood the importance of what they had done.  The Wright Brother’s seeming failure ushered in a new world of flight, and Lincoln’s speech raised the hopes of a discouraged nation.  Today it is considered one of the finest pieces ever written in the English language.

Sometimes what you do isn’t well received,  doesn’t get a standing ovation, is just downright depressing.  To get through those experiences, I have found that asking one question of myself has helped. And that question is, “Did I do the best I knew how?”  If I could answer that question in the affirmative, I was more able to accept the final result…or to resort to a hackneyed saying, to let the result take care of itself

In the case of the Wright Brothers, and Lincoln, the result of their efforts was not immediately apparent at Kitty Hawk or at Gettysburg.

The Words Lincoln Lived By

“This is a book to cherish and share.”—Bill Marriott, CEO, Marriott International, Inc.

“Not only does Griessman give us Lincoln quotes, but he also weaves each one into a little jewel of an essay on that particular subject.” Wayne C. Temple, renowned Lincoln scholar, Illinois State Archives

A stirring, inspirational treasury of quotations from our greatest and most admired president, the book offers rich material for interpretation, reflection, and spiritual guidance.

You will also enjoy Lincoln Speaks To Leaders by Gene Griessman and Pat Williams.

Don’t leave yet. You’ve found a goldmine. Check out additional power phrases and unusual quotations.



Gene Griessman is an internationally known keynote speaker, actor, and communication strategist. His book “TheWords Lincoln Lived By” is in its 23rd printing and “Time Tactics of Very Successful People” is in its 43rd printing. His training video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations. He has spoken at conventions and annual meetings all over the world. To learn more about his presentations, call 404-435-2225. Learn more at Atlanta Speakers Bureau or at his website. His latest book “Lincoln and Obama” has just been released by Audible.
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