If you’ve never failed at something, how do you know when you’re succeeding? For women that question is harder to answer because they’re less likely to allow themselves to fail, according to a recent article by U.S. News & World Report called, “To Succeed, Women Must Learn to Fail Forward.”
“Research has shown that women are judged more harshly for their mistakes than men and may respond by being more risk averse,” writes Linda Kramer Jenning, the author of the article. “As a result, some women may not seize leadership opportunities and that worries those committed to achieving gender equity.”
The thing is, when you don’t fail, you don’t allow yourself to become stronger in that process, resulting in more resilience — which is a key part of being a successful leader, according to a 2018 study on nurse managers published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine. But the stakes are so much higher for women to begin with, as just 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women — a number that is actually on the decline, per the Pew Research Center’s 2017 data report.
Still, the benefits of failure go beyond resilience. For women, especially, being open about failure makes leaders more relatable and therefore effective. “People appreciate that you’re not perfect all the time,” Jessica Grounds, co-founder of Mine the Gap, a firm that works with companies to close their gender gaps, told U.S. News. Grounds suggests that women build a trusted team in and out of the workplace who will give constructive criticism and coach them through a failure.
That sentiment that failure is a powerful aspect of success has been echoed by handfuls of female leaders. Whenever you need a reminder on how to embrace failure and move forward stronger, bookmark this page to revisit these wise words of advice from mega-successful women from Oprah to Thrive’s own Arianna Huffington:
Oprah: “You are bound to stumble.”
“It doesn’t matter how far you might rise,” Oprah said in 2013 at Harvard’s commencement address. “At some point, you are bound to stumble. If you’re constantly pushing yourself higher and higher, the law of averages predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do, I want you to remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”
J.K. Rowling: “Failure directed my energy into what matters.”
Likewise, at a 2008 Harvard commencement address, J.K. Rowling revealed that failure can even lead you down a path that’s much more fulfilling than the one you were on before. “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential,” she said, referencing the time before she allowed herself to pursue writing and pen the Harry Potter series. “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”
Beyoncé: “You’re never too good to lose.”
In the words of Beyoncé: “The reality is, sometimes you lose. And you’re never too good to lose, you’re never too big to lose, you’re never too smart to lose, it happens. And it happens when it needs to happen. And you have to embrace those things.”
Anna Wintour: “Everyone should be sacked at least once.”
Even Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour has talked about the importance of failure before, telling Alastair Campbell in his 2015 book, Winners: And How They Succeed, “Everyone should be sacked at least once in their career because perfection doesn’t exist. It’s important to have setbacks because that is the reality of life.”
Lady Gaga: “Cry, then go kick some ass.”
When it’s not as easy to embrace those setbacks, though, you can remember this anecdote Lady Gaga told about getting dropped from a record label. “I remember when I got dropped from my first record label. I just said, ‘Mommy, let’s go see Grandma,'” Gaga told MTV in 2011. “And I cried on my grandmother’s couch. She looked at me, and she goes, ‘I’m going to let you cry for the rest of the day, and then you have to stop crying, and you have to go kick some ass.'”
Vera Wang: “Pick yourself right up and start again.”
Fashion designer Vera Wang pursued a career as an ice skater prior to entering fashion. “When you fall down — which you have to [do] if you want to learn to be a skater — you pick yourself right up and start again,” Wang told Business of Fashion in 2013. “You don’t let anything deter you.”‘
Arianna Huffington: “Failure is a stepping stone to success.”
There is also plenty of wisdom to be gleaned from Thrive’s own Arianna Huffington, who recalled in 2016, “My mother kept telling my teenage self: that ‘failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a stepping stone to success.’ I think she would really enjoy how many times I had let myself fail along the way.”
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