Special note: This post is dedicated to my friend Jason Sokol, who mostly jokingly (I think) asked if I was going to offer an analysis of The Gettysburg Address. Not quite, but here is what I came up with.
The year is 1863. It’s right around this time of year, too. You are the President of the United, well, you are the President of the Union part of the United States of America. War has been raging (technically) since 1861, but really, the rift has been there for centuries. The world has been watching your country as the war has dragged on. You have been invited to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to dedicate the new national cemetery there. You are not even the main speaker. Somehow, the onus has fallen upon you to describe in a speech everything that the event means, everything the war means, everything your country means to you.
This is the scenario in which Abraham Lincoln found himself. He got up to make his speech, and just 2 minutes later, he was done. There was only a light smattering of applause. When he sat down, he told a friend that he had completely missed the mark. Different newspapers wondered how England and France viewed the Union now that it was clear how humiliating the tall, lanky president was. What a stinky speech, everyone seemed to say.
This post is already longer, in terms of words, than the Gettysburg Address. And yet, now, almost exactly 147 years later, the Gettysburg Address has become one of the American classics. “Four score and seven years ago” is an opening phrase that students have memorized for decades now. In retrospect, it seems bizarre that Lincoln wrote so many drafts of the speech – on the train to Gettysburg, in his hotel room. It seems strange that people could have been so blind as to the poignancy that he offered. It seems strange that he himself felt that he missed the mark.
There has probably been a time in your life when you worked hard on something, finessed it, polished it, started over, finessed again, only to feel that you had completely missed the mark. Maybe you wrote a blog post that you slaved over and it got no reaction. Maybe you did something at work that you thought was amazing that nobody else seemed to notice.
The thing is, you can’t always know when things are going to hit people in the way you want. Even in this age of instant communication, we are not really instantly communicating our meaning. We are just passing words back and forth. Meaning travels more slowly and is more deliberate.
What I garner from the moral of the Gettysburg Address is that all we can do is to do our best. So many of us are out here writing blog posts, tweeting, posting updates here there and everywhere. It’s kind of like emptying a huge bag of seeds onto a vast stretch of plowed fields. You don’t know what’s going to stick and bloom. You don’t know what will waft away never to be seen again. So what can you do? Make sure you are always happy with your efforts. Make sure your quality is up to your standards. Make sure your efforts are up to your standards. It might take someone 147 hours or 147 years to truly appreciate what you are doing, but if you are pleased with it yourself, the rest of it doesn’t matter.
Who knows, maybe you’ll end up in the history books of the future.