What Abraham Lincoln Can Teach Us About Working in Finance

Abraham Lincoln taught us a lot of things in the USA – but what has he taught us about working in finance? The great emancipator did many things in his life, and one lesson he has carried with him through history is his ability to turn failure into a learning experience. Working in finance is a volatile business; being vulnerable to the trends, upticks and crashes of the world economy, you never quite feel safe in your decision-making. If you have investors or clients on your back asking for advice, you might point them in the wrong direction – and pay the price for it. So how can you take after Lincoln and find the good in failure?

What Abraham Lincoln Can Teach Us About Working in Finance - stack of 5 dollar bills image
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The failures of Abraham Lincoln were many. Although he is renowned in history as the man who emancipated the slaves and brought relative equality to the country, before he became president, he failed many times. His lifelong sweetheart passed away; he apparently had a nervous breakdown; and his political pursuits were often dead-ends. Yet Lincoln pushed on, and continued to work hard, and achieved one of the greatest ever careers in global political history.

Failing Up

‘Failing up’ is a term referring to those in privileged positions who seem to do well no matter what. But right now, we can and should give failing up a better definition. Everybody fails; nobody goes through life unscathed by disappointment or messing up. Lincoln famously said that “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” Using this as a lesson for all in the finance sector, how can we ‘fail up’ and become content with our failures?

Learning to Avoid Repetition

The financial crash of 2008 proved to us all that the global economy is fragile. 2020, the most unpredictable year in any of our lives so far, has proved this twice over. Capitalism’s fragility is not well-documented, but now is the time to change it. In the world of finance, our responsibility is to use the failures of the past to educate us for the future. We cannot reverse the financial failings of the past twelve years, but, as Lincoln said, we can become content with our failure. How do we achieve contentment? We accept, we move on, and we vow never to repeat the shams of the past.


In order to move on from failure without denying it, we must re-evaluate our pasts. No more denial; straightforward analysis. After all, that’s what the finance sector does best, right?  The lesson of 2020 is that our fragilities must be solved to avoid further economic crises; how can we look to the future and use our past failures to shore up against the next tumultuous event?

Looking into the future, our world is going through a sea change. The climate and our societies are rapidly changing; perhaps it is time to be content with the failure of our current system, and look upwards to a new way of financing our world.

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