It was another crushing failure.
He had just lost his bid for the U.S. Senate by a narrow margin.
He was a village lawyer who had grown up in deep poverty, borrowing law books from friends to educate himself. He wanted to serve his country through politics but had achieved only a single, undistinguished term in the House of Representatives.
He had his eyes on the Senate where he could distinguish himself and make a bigger impact. He had already lost one Senate contest, but with the shifting political winds, he threw his hat in the ring again.
He was handed another loss.
He decided to go for a walk to take his mind off of his latest failure. It was a dark, gloomy evening, and the steady rain had made his path slippery. As he walked, his foot slipped from under him and he lost his balance. Just before an unhappy meeting between face and ground, he steadied himself and recovered.
“It’s a slip, not a fall,” he thought.
The incident was a microcosm for his political misfortunes. Even at that low moment in his life, the man understood that his unsuccessful Senate race was “a slip, not a fall.”
Two years later, he would find his footing and run for political office again—this time aiming higher, for the White House. At the time, he barely had a national reputation and had no administrative experience whatsoever.
Newspapers mocked his lackluster credentials. One paper called him a “fourth rate lecturer, who cannot speak good grammar” and whose speeches are “illiterate compositions . . . interlarded with coarse and clumsy jokes.”
Against all odds, this “fourth rate lecturer” was elected the 16th President of the United States. He went on to become one of the greatest political figures in history—leading the country during the Civil War, abolishing slavery, and preserving the Union.
Abraham Lincoln knew the difference between a slip and a fall—a failure and final defeat.
Time changes how we view events. What looks like a catastrophic fall in the short term is a minor slip in the long. If you narrow the time frame, Lincoln’s two consecutive losses for the Senate look like defeats. But those losses take on an entirely different light when we consider Lincoln’s entire career.
A modern business example comes from SpaceX. The company’s first three launches were spectacular failures. Many outside observers believed those three failures spelled the end of a company created by a team of amateurs and led by a rich kid playing with expensive toys. But in less than two months after the third crash, the company was back on the launch pad. The fourth rocket launched out of the atmosphere and into the record books, becoming the world’s first privately built spacecraft to reach Earth’s orbit.
Labeling SpaceX’s early crashes failures was like calling a tennis match before it’s over. “I’ve come from behind too often,” the great tennis champion Andre Agassi writes, “and had too many opponents come roaring back against me, to think that’s a good idea.”
Breakthroughs are evolutionary, not revolutionary.
If you’re taking moonshots—if you’re experimenting with bold ideas—you won’t succeed on the first try. You’re going to slip numerous times because the path is new and you’re still learning to walk.
Don’t mistake a slip for a fall.
A failure can be the beginning, not the end.
P.S. We’re opening applications for the Moonshot Mastermind this coming Tuesday, May 18th. The Mastermind is a 12-month program for 6 high-caliber leaders from multiple industries who support each other across the finish line of their most intimidating goals. Through the Mastermind, you’ll have direct access to me and my wife Kathy (who has 20 years of experience in strategy, impact, and brand marketing), along with a small cohort of hand-selected superstars.
If you’re ready to build out an indomitable year with an A-team brain trust invested in helping you succeed, click here to get on the waiting list and be the first to know when we open the doors.
P.P.S. Want to stop doing busywork and double down on things that actually move the needle? My good friend Khe Hy is offering a free bootcamp that will help you fast-track your life’s biggest priorities by finding your leverage.
You can register for it at this link.