Former Vice President Joe Biden accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom With Distinction, the highest honor a civilian can receive.
Getting to that podium, however, was not without difficulty. Biden’s lengthy career in politics has featured multiple personal and professional setbacks, including the deaths of three family members.
Still, it seems Biden has lived by the advice his father once gave him: “Champ, the measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down, but how quickly he gets up.”
Biden’s career, with all of its ups and downs, teaches three valuable lessons about success.
1. Struggles, even tragedies, don’t need to keep you from pursuing your goals
In November 1972, at 30 years old, Biden was elected to the Senate, winning by a margin of just 3,000 votes. Only a month after the professional victory, disaster upended his life.
While shopping for a Christmas tree, Biden’s wife Neilia and daughter Naomi were killed in a car accident. His sons Beau and Hunter were badly injured but survived.
Biden initially said he would not accept the Senate nomination, but after Majority Leader Mike Mansfield kept calling him, he agreed to take office. Biden took his oath from his sons’ hospital room.
He went on to pursue a career in politics, rising to become Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1987.
2. Learn from mistakes to ensure your legacy
In 1988, Biden entered the presidential race, but reports of plagiarism during law school and false claims about his academic record derailed his campaign. He later admitted to mistakes and pledged to be more candid in the future.
Over time, Biden became seen by many as a uniquely honest public figure. A 2015 CBS News/New York Times poll found that Biden topped the list of the most trustworthy politicians in either party.
In 1991, Biden faced controversy again, this time over his handling of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings, which involved allegations of sexual harassment by one of his employees, Anita Hill. Biden did not call three other witnesses who could have echoed Hill’s charges, a move that some progressives found unfair.
In the years that followed, Biden promoted legislation that foregrounded women’s concerns. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Violence Against Women Act, which Biden had introduced to Congress. And as Vice President, he became a chief advocate for the Obama administration’s campaign to combat sexual assault on college campuses.
The VP also racked up other accomplishments: He oversaw a $840 billion economic stimulus package, led the administration’s task force to strengthen the middle class, worked to reduce gun violence and became a key player in U.S. foreign relations.
3. Make perseverance your trademark
In 2015, personal tragedy struck again. Biden’s eldest son Beau died of brain cancer at the age of 46. Biden’s devastation played a role in his decision not to run for president in 2016, which he now says he “regrets every day.”
But the 74-year-old says he plans to stay actively involved in politics. And if Biden’s career is any indication, that’s not just talk.
“Failure at some point in your life is inevitable,” Biden said in 2008. “But giving up is unforgivable.”