I, like many of you, chose a high-risk career path — a path statistically skewed towards frequent failure.

The path of early stage startups.

You and I, we’ve felt the stress of weeks of cash in the company bank account. We’ve laid people off and been laid off. We’ve see years of hard work get packed into folders and zip files, and handed over to investors to auction off.

We’ve had wins too. Work we’re proud of. Things our teams achieved against very difficult odds. Big press mentions. Hard won deals with Fortune 100 companies. New-to-the-world product innovations. And good exits.

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But, the day-to-day experience of startup life is obstacles, setbacks and problems. You face failure, more than success. You keep heading up Everest, even as the air thins and the fatigue sets in. You know the climb is worth it, but it’s hard. It messes with your head.

In these moments of failure and setback, I’ve often looked for something to heal and to comfort. Something to rationalize the difficulty and give fresh courage to keep going.

Speeches like Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Man in the Arena’ become more than just historical words. They’re high-octane courage transported straight from Paris April 1910 to my present reality.

The life of Abraham Lincoln is similar.

We idolize him today. But he was an ordinary man. He had real faults and flaws. You cringe at times, the better you get to know him. And, he failed. Man did he fail. Nothing came easy, except maybe his law work. But politics. That was an uphill climb, filled with embarrassing setbacks and failures.

You should Google “Lincoln’s failures”.

It doesn’t sound like the description of the 2nd most important president of the US. Yet, he knew how to get back up. He knew how to keep going.

He once said something to the effect of, “If my opponents think this failure will deter me, then they’ll be dearly disappointed. I’m too well acquainted with failure, for this failure to hold me back.”

Sometimes I need to see resilience and courage — not on a motivational poster or hustle-culture LinkedIn post — but in the life of a time-tested human being that knew the struggle and kept going. That’s the fuel I need. That’s the courage I want to live out.

Where do you find courage to persevere in the face of failure?


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