A couple years ago I visited the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL. As I walked the halls exploring the life and pursuits of this legendary man, I came across a timeline. It showed his life and his endeavors from beginning to end. I was amazed at how meandering his life was, particularly in his early years. Between losing jobs and changing careers, his life was very different from the story in my mind about him.
As I stood in front of that timeline, this great leader became more human, and I came to admire him much more. I found myself feeling moved by who he became in spite of his less-than-ideal early years. I discovered that I could relate to him more knowing he struggled. I found myself feeling proud of who he was because of what he had lived through. He wasn’t just a legend, he was a flawed and sometimes lost man who had to work hard and fight his share of demons.
I often put the people I admire on pedestals.
I tell myself that they are just gifted and things just fall into place for them. I also tell myself that there are parts of me that are broken— life is harder, work is harder, and my daily struggles are more intense.
As much as I like to protect the people that I respect and admire— they are just people. They may be great people, but they are still just people. They may be great, but “greatness” isn’t as unique of a category as we make it out to be. The “greats” still struggle and have all the limits that everyone else has. As the saying goes: they still put their pants on one leg at a time.
We tell ourselves so many stories about other people, which are also stories about ourselves.
We compare ourselves to a public persona and assume that the rest of that person’s life is like the sliver-lined version that we see on display. We don’t get the whole story, but we compare all of our selves and our stories to the portion of their story that we know.
I want to teach myself this: no one is as great as I think they are— meaning they are still human and still struggle. In fact, that is what makes a person truly great. My admiration deepens when I understand the struggles of someone I respect. Everything doesn’t just line up perfectly and easily in most cases, and life still has its share of challenges.
When we let the people we admire be human, we find grace and compassion for them.
I find myself advocating for them and wanting to see them succeed. And I also find myself feeling more grace and compassion for myself— finding more space to let myself struggle and not have it all together.
When I see Abraham Lincoln, I see a man who hoped when he could have given up hope. Then I see myself struggling with hope, and feel that there is more reason to hope.
Others have walked this ground before us. They can lead us home.