Had I gone to college, I would have studied history.
(I did not go to college, by the way, and you’ll be treated to all of the sordid details of that on Monday if you’re on the newsletter.)
The reason I like history is the same reason I like marketing and law.
The facts don’t matter as much as the stories surrounding the facts.
Anyway, most of the non-fiction books we read around here are history related.
(Unless you wrote a book, of course. If you wrote a book, I loved it. Sensational. Better than Gladwell!)
Jamie has a book called Lincoln and His Generals, originally published in 1952.
It’s about, well, Lincoln, I guess. And his generals.
I haven’t read it, but I skimmed through it. The vocabulary was a little high-brow for my recreational reading level.
(Jamie DID go to university, so he’s smarter than me.)
Anyway, what was I saying?
I had a thought about Lincoln and I thought you might like to hear it.
Abraham Lincoln, like Winston Churchill, or Fidel Castro, dealt with some pretty crazy stuff in his time.
The stakes were pretty high.
When we read books about people like them, we often marvel at how well they kept their heads in a crisis.
They kept cool.
They made decisions.
(In all of those cases, they literally executed. But that’s neither here nor there.)
In Lincoln’s case, there were a few moments during the American Civil War that got a little tense.
We might look back at those times and say, “Wow, the Civil War sucked. Way to keep a cool head, Abe.”
We might do that.
But there’s something we tend to forget.
Imagine it’s 1863.
The war started a few years ago and won’t end for a few more. Things are… tense.
Lincoln’s in a room or a field or a steamboat somewhere and the poo is hitting the fan.
Lincoln says to his boys, “What the BLEEP do we do now?”
We in 2012 look at Lincoln – boldly keepin’ on keepin’ on – and go, “Dude. Well played. The Civil War won’t end for another couple years and he’s totally chilling.”
But what we forget is that Lincoln didn’t *know* the Civil War was going to end in a couple of years.
He didn’t know he would save the Union, and he didn’t know he’d be on the five dollar bill.
He didn’t know that 15 years after his death, his wife would be wandering around the streets of Chicago with $56,000 in government bonds sewn into her petticoats.
(OK, maybe he had an idea on that one.)
He felt just as screwed and confused and overwhelmed as you do now.
He felt just as out of decent options.
He felt just as over his head.
He just had to do the best he could.
He had to remember that this was not the end of the story.
Now let’s take Churchill.
Churchill’s mom was a total bitch.
She was vicious.
He idolized her and she basically spat on him every chance she got.
He wrote her letters begging to be allowed to come home from boarding school and she never wrote back.
We look at him and say, “Man, what a brave guy.”
In 1897, Churchill watched one of his fellow army dudes get slashed to death by a Sikh bad guy during the Greco-Turkish war.
You think he was like, “It’s cool, ’cause one day I’ll beat the Nazis”?
No, he was not.
He was crapping his pants.
His third child was born as the First World War was breaking out. You think when he was on his way to Belgium, leaving behind a terrified pregnant wife, he was all, “Winston, relax. You’ll paint great watercolors when you retire.”
His fourth child, Marigold, died.
Of a cold.
A couple months before she turned three.
I have a feeling knowing he would one day be quoted on coffee mugs would have provided little comfort.
It brutally, brutally sucked.
It brutally, brutally, BRUTALLY sucked and the Second World War wouldn’t even START for another 20 years.
But he did the only thing you can do.
He tried to remember that this was not the end of his story.
One more and we’ll talk about you.
I’m told by my American friends that y’all don’t know a whole lot about Castro.
I’ll spare you the details because I like to keep up the impression that we’re non-partisan.
You think that when Castro saw the corpses of his friends being hung from trees he was like, “It’s all good, baby… one day they’ll paint my name on fences.”
You think when he was wandering around alone and starving in a jungle, thinking the rest of his 82-man force had been executed and he was next, you think he had a CLUE what to do?
You think the Bay of Pigs was a cakewalk? That he just consulted the Oracle of Delphi and was like, “It’s cool, I got this one”?
He did not know what would happen next and he did not know what to do.
He did not know he would lead Cuba for 50 years and still be good-naturedly yelling at Raul at the ripe old age of 86.
He knew nothing.
He just tried to remember that this was not the end of his story.
Today, you do not know the rest of your story.
You may be floundering.
You may be struggling.
You may be outright failing.
Or maybe you’re doing okay.
Maybe the struggle paid off.
Maybe you got what you wished for.
But you hate it.
It sometimes feels like the end of the story.
It is not.
You may have to make some changes.
Some of them might be hard.
Some of them might be unthinkable.
Some of them might involve looking like a flake, or admitting defeat, or taking a huge loss.
That sucked for Lincoln, it sucked for Churchill, it sucked for Castro and it sucks for you, too.
But YOUR STORY IS NOT OVER.