Learn from Lincoln: Speech Delivered by Harvard Reject Peter Bennett, Nov. 16, 2012

November 15, 2012
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Abe with son Tad

Abe with son Tad

Thanks for having me.

I am the author of Life Lessons of a Harvard Reject. It’s an encyclopedia on success – your success! I don’t care what situation you face or predicament you’re in, you can turn to the appropriate section in the book and begin reaping real answers and solutions to achieve the outcomes you desire.

It will help you aim higher than your current reach. It will help you tear down the walls holding back your success. It will help you HIGHER yourself when the world isn’t hiring. In the book, you’ll meet scores of teachers, everyone from Jesus Christ to J.C. Penney, to help you complete your particular journey in life.

Because Spielberg’s new movie, “Lincoln,” hits movie theaters today, I thought I’d share some lessons on Abraham Lincoln, one of the many teachers you’ll meet in Life Lessons.

We have another reason to honor and listen to Lincoln. As president, he declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, with the first one being celebrated on Nov. 26, 1863. Exactly one week before that first official Thanksgiving, Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

You should also know that more books have been written about our 16th president than about any other American in history. As of November 12, 2012, the number of books on Lincoln (which includes biographies, autobiographies, histories, titles on specific topics, etc) stood at 2,515. The only other U.S. president that comes close to having that many books written about him is George Washington at 1,347.

So, if the two faced each other in an election, Lincoln would win 65% of the vote to Washington’s 35%.

Indeed, there has never been anyone quite like Abraham Lincoln.

Let me give you few quick facts about Lincoln.

He was our tallest president at 6-foot-4. He weighed about 180 pounds, wore a size 7 ¼-hat and size 12 to 14 shoes, depending on the shoe and shoemaker.

He was the first president to be born outside of the original 13 colonies.

About 130 photographs were taken of Lincoln in his lifetime, but there wasn’t one taken of him with his entire family. In fact, he was never photographed alone with his wife Mary.

Lincoln was the first president to have his image on a U.S. coin. The Lincoln penny, which came out in 1909, would have been Lincoln’s 100th birthday.

Lincoln is the only president to hold a patent. He invented a flotation device for the movement of boats in shallow water.

Abraham Lincoln’s salary as president was $25,000 a year.

One last thing, you should know about Lincoln, and this fact is by far the most important: Lincoln was an incorrigible and unapologetic jokester and storyteller who also experienced deep bouts of melancholy. He was Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jon Stewart rolled into one. His stories were the grease that lubricated his friendships and his rise to the highest office of the land. He loved to hear them and he loved even more to tell them. His laughter was his life-preserver as he faced the greatest crisis any president has ever known. His early law partner, Ward Hill Lamon, said thus, “Wit, with that illustrious man, was a jewel whose mirth-moving flashes he could no more repress than the diamond can extinguish its own brilliancy.”

He had legions of critics, who, unaccustomed to his prairie and backwoods humor, thought he was a clown or a buffoon. But it was his humor that was the glue that held together his sanity and the nation.
Now let’s get to some of Lincoln’s life lessons that we should all try to emulate if our goal is to achieve real success and significance in life. Imagine how much more success you can achieve if you begin applying some of Lincoln’s practices to your own life.

1.Give Back – The $250 Fee
Lincoln literally believed in giving back. He and his early law partner Ward Hill Lamon represented a client in a simple case that required little of their time. When Lincoln learned his partner had charged a set fee of $250, he protested. Lincoln said, “That is all wrong. Give him back half of it. When his partner explained that the client was totally satisfied with the bill and services rendered, Lincoln replied, “That may be, but I am not satisfied. This is positively wrong. Go, call him back and return him half the money at least, or I will not receive one cent of it for my share.”

Even the judge was upset by Lincoln’s modest fees. In rasping tones that could be heard all over the court room, the large 8th circuit judge bellowed, “’Lincoln, I have been watching you and Lamon. You are impoverishing this bar by your picayune charges of fees, and the lawyers have reason to complain of you. You are now almost as poor as Lazarus, and if you don’t make people pay you more for your services, you will die as poor as Job’s turkey.”

2. Don’t Be a Pig – The Human Hog
Lincoln was a prairie lawyer who served clients throughout Illinois’ 8th Circuit. Traveling constantly, he picked up lots of tales and spun several himself, including this yarn about a Cortlandt County farmer.
A farmer had raised a hog of such tremendous size that people came from miles around to see it. When one curious visitor asked to sneak a peek, the farmer said, “Sure, but I’ll have to charge you a dollar.” The stranger glared at the farmer for a minute, handed him the desired money, and started to walk away. “Hold on,” said the farmer, “Don’t you want to see the hog?” “No,” said the stranger. “Lookin’ at you, I’ve seen as big a hog as I ever want to see!”

3. Appreciate the Value of Money – The Boat

Don’t think for a second that Lincoln wasn’t a capitalist or didn’t appreciate the value of money. Indeed, in the White House, Lincoln recalled for Secretary of State William Seward how he earned his first dollar. He had built a boat, and two strangers wanted their bags ferried to a larger steam boat. After transporting them, they flung two half dollars at him. Lincoln said, “I could scarcely believe my eyes when I picked up the money. You may think this a little thing in these days, and it seems to me now like a trifle, but it was an important incident in my life. The world seemed wider and fairer before me. I was a hopeful boy from that time.”

4. Keep Only What Is Yours – The Poor Woman
In his early 20s, when Lincoln was a store clerk in New Salem, Illinois, a poor woman made a small purchase. After closing up and totaling the sales, he realized that he had overcharged the woman 6 cents. That same night, Lincoln walked three miles so as to return the money to the woman.

5. Be a Person of Vision – The Autograph
Other than his signature that appears on official documents, only one autograph of Lincoln has been preserved. It was written when he was 14 on the leaf of his school book. This is what it said:
“Abraham Lincoln, his hand and pen, he will be good, but god knows when.”

6. Don’t Let ‘Em Know What You Don’t Know – The Drill Sergeant
People forget Lincoln trained as an Indian fighter. Indeed, Indians had killed his grandfather. When he was 23, he was named the captain of his Indian-fighting company. One day he was drilling his men who were marching side by side 20 abreast as they approached a gate. Having forgotten the command for assembling his men in single file so they could pass through the gate, he shouted, “This company is dismissed for 2 minutes, when it will fall in again on the other side of the gate.”

7. Set High Standards – As Your Father In Heaven Is Perfect, Be Ye Also Perfect

One of Lincoln’s favorite quotes was from scripture. It read, “As your Father in Heaven is perfect, be ye also perfect.” Lincoln, more than anybody, knew he was far from perfect, but this understanding didn’t prevent him from seeking excellence.

8. Don’t Give Up Too Early – Horse for the Course
“Don’t change horses in midstream.” It turns out that the popularity of the phrase comes from a speech Lincoln gave in 1864 to the National Union League, which wanted him to run under its political banner for a second term. In the speech, Lincoln said, “An old Dutch farmer remarked to a companion once that it was not best to swap horses when crossing streams.”

So, as business people, instead of abandoning ship at the first sight of trouble, review your plans and goals first. Perhaps, all that is needed is a tweak here or there and rededication to your purpose.

9. Know Your Audience – Good Listener, Bad Listener
Lincoln had an inexhaustible supply of stories; more important, he knew when and how to share them. Lincoln said, “There are two ways of relating a story. If you have an auditor who has the time, and is inclined to listen, lengthen it out, pour it out slowly as if from a jug. If you have a poor listener, hasten it, shorten it, shoot it out of a pop-gun.”

Apply these rules when you give your listing presentation. If you’re client is 80-years-old, don’t try to wow her with a slick Power Point Presentation. Always customize your presentation to your audience.

10. Celebrate Who You are and Where You Came From — Man of the People

If Lincoln had been born a blue blood, would he have been able to summon the haunting, hallowed words of the Gettysburg Address or the healing words –“with malice toward none and charity for all”– in his second inaugural address?

11. Turn Obstacles into Opportunities – A Case of the Uglies

Lincoln reached the White House despite losing eight elections, failing twice in business and suffering a nervous breakdown. But he won his two most important elections: in 1860, when he was elected president, and in 1864, when he was reelected.

He never let poverty or poor appearance or even depression, his or his wife’s, hold him back. Indeed, he used these detriments to his advantage.

Lincoln knew he didn’t have Brad Pitt’s good looks, but his homely appearance didn’t prevent him from charming people and winning their affections. His humor gave him humility.

Indeed, Lincoln told this joke about himself: “Once I met a woman riding horseback in the woods. As I stopped to let her pass, she also stopped, and, looking at me intently, said: ‘I do believe you are the ugliest man I ever saw.’ Said I, ‘Madam, you are probably right, but I can’t help it!’ ‘No,’ said she, ‘you can’t help it, but you might stay at home!’”

12. Never Be Afraid to Speak the Truth – The Hot Stove League

Lincoln’s first secretary of war was Simon Cameron, a man so corrupt that the only thing he wouldn’t steal, according to Lincoln, was a hot stove. Lincoln replaced him with Edwin Stanton.

13. Plant Seeds of Hope and Possibility – Thistles and Flowers
In February of 1865, the President granted the request of two Pennsylvania women to free men who had been arrested for resisting the draft. Turning to his friend, Joshua Speed, Lincoln said, “Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who know me best that ‘I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower when I thought a flower would grow.’”

14. Don’t Hold a Grudge – Resentment Doesn’t Pay

When friends of Lincoln advised against appointing some of his main rivals to his cabinet, he replied, “You have more of a feeling of personal resentment than I have. Perhaps, I have too little of it, but I never thought it paid.” So business people, don’t automatically rule out people from joining your team just because they once did you a bad turn.

15. Don’t Be a Prisoner of the Past – The McCormick Harvesting Machine Co.
In 1855, Lincoln had been retained by the defense in a patent-infringement suit brought by the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. When the trial was switched from Chicago to Cincinnati, his clients decided to dump him in favor of Edwin Stanton, one of the nation’s preeminent legal minds. But they never informed Lincoln, and he didn’t hear the news until he appeared in Cincinnati prepared for the trial. Although professionally embarrassed, he didn’t sulk over the snub. Instead, he stayed to observe the trial. Seven years later, when Lincoln sought a new Secretary of War, he appointed Stanton, choosing to remember how impressed he had been by Stanton’s courtroom brilliance, not how he had once been slighted and ignored by the legal giant. His greater purpose and focus on assembling the best people for his cabinet supplanted any painful blows to his ego.

Interestingly, when Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865, in a house owned by tailor William Petersen, across the street from Ford’s Theater, Stanton was by his side, whispering, “Now, he belongs to the ages.”

Maybe Lincoln was such a poor hater because he had experienced so much personal pain and loss. His grandfather Abe was killed by Indians. His mother died when he was just 9. When he was 19, his sister Sarah died while giving birth. Only one of his four sons lived to adulthood.This son was Robert Lincoln (1843-1926).

Strangely, near the end of the war at a train station in Jersey City, N.J., Robert fell off a platform while attempting to board a railcar. He was saved from possible death by Edwin Booth, the actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865), the man who would assassinate President Lincoln a few weeks later in Ford’s Theater. Booth was traveling with his friend, John T. Ford, owner of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where Lincoln was assassinated. Amazing!

Although spared from death by Edwin Booth, Robert Lincoln was either present or nearby for three of the nation’s four presidential assassinations. Robert arrived at Ford’s Theater shortly after his father was shot on April 14, 1865. On July 2, 1881, he was at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, D.C., where he was an eyewitness to the shooting of President Garfield by Charles J. Guiteau. On September 6, 1901, at the invitation of President William McKinley, Lincoln attended the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., where McKinley was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz.

It wasn’t surprising that Robert started turning down invitations by his friends to attend their gatherings and social affairs. But he carried on and served the nation with distinction.

We all have a destiny. You have a destiny.

Being a Realtor or someone who works for himself requires Lincoln’s inner toughness. When you feel that toughness wavering, read a little more about him and like Lincoln, don’t take things so darn seriously. He faced insurmountable challenges, with humor and grace, and he overcame them.

And so can you!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

For more information about Life Lessons of a Harvard Reject, visit www.HarvardReject.com

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