Washington, D.C., in the 1980’s had a unique culture, from Congress to corporate lobbying circles to the media and government agencies. Your title and access to decision making circles defined how you were viewed and treated. My title and company were my identity, my visibility, reflecting my power and prestige to myself and others.
In 1989, I was given news that I felt was the end of my successful professional career. The General Counsel of the company for whom I worked as the Vice President of Federal and State affairs, came to meet with me at the Washington office which I headed. He informed me that the company was eliminating various officer positions, including mine and would be closing its Washington office.
I loved my work. I was respected and effective. For a decade, I was known on Capitol Hill among elected officials and staff, and had my photograph in both Fortune magazine and the United States Chamber of Commerce national publication as one of the few women lobbyists heading a major corporate office.
So I was shocked and devastated! I considered this corporate decision, over which I had no control, my public failure. I had been pushed off my professional pedestal in my power pantsuit with coordinated jewelry and pumps. It was a gut punch.
How did I handle it? Poorly!
I felt I was responsible for losing my position in spite of outstanding accomplishments and assumed that people blamed me not the company. I walked around with shoulders slumped and eyes cast down believing I had not been smart enough or had some type of defect.
I recall now something my dad once told me. He said, “Janice, I never worry about you and how you handle success but I worry about you handling failure. You have not had enough experience failing.”
Had I perhaps taken more risks and learned the ways to cope with the feelings of failure, then that public failure would not have felt so devastating.
With this public failure, I thought at the time asking for help, sharing and expressing vulnerability was a weakness. Today, a woman showing vulnerability even tears is applauded. She is called authentic.
I am fortunate enough where I have yet to experience what is considered a public failure. However, given the current atmosphere of our society, I believe there is something to be said for preparing for what to do after you have failed. It is important to find a solution to a problem you incur in order to come-back stronger and better than before. Millennials have a unique approach to failure. We look at a possible failure and try to either prevent it from happening or are one-step ahead of it and already moving-on before the dust settles. This is not ignoring failure or not acknowledging its existence, instead it is an approach that helps prepare for the after-fail.
If we examine the many movements being created by the Millennials, it is the result of a failure. We have seen Hillary Clinton, a highly polarizing, over-qualified candidate lose the presidential seat, we have seen the number of women being silenced with regards to sexual assault, and the list of failures have continued to be exposed. However, instead of letting those failures define us, we create movements such as the #MeToo or the Women’s March. The responses to these failures are what make us stronger as a collective group and it is what is necessary in prevailing a public failure.
Public failures are defined differently by individuals, but typically are categorized as such due to the amount of people aware and involved with the situation. And regardless of support from family, friends, and co-workers, it is difficult to overcome a public failure without some form of self-confidence overshadowing the situation. Questions such as what does it say for a hard-working, motivated person to be fired? Am I not successful because I am confused on what path to take professionally? Why am I considered less of a woman for not wanting to have children?
However, I have found that having a positive approach towards adversity, you’re giving yourself the ability to look at change as a positive and in turn find a solution in the opportunity. For example, I am nearing the age of thirty and have yet to start my career. I find that looking at this from a positive lens allows for me to be open to new and exciting opportunities, but more importantly it helps me find a solution.
If all girls were taught how to love each other fiercely instead of how to compete with each other and hate their own bodies, what a different and beautiful world we would live in,” – Nikia Gill
For each of these leadership topics we’ve shared our own individual experiences as a baby boomer and a millennial, shared some of the questions we are often asked and seek to answer in our work, and some related resources for women who want to explore further on their own.
Luck has nothing to do with it, because I have spent many, many hours, countless hours, on the court working for my one moment in time, not knowing when it would come.” – Serena Williams
New York Times Claire Martin Sunday Business Section Wearing Your Failures on Your Sleeve
New York Times Jill Filipovic Opinion: Donald Was a Creep, Too Bad Hillary Couldn’t Say It
“Mrs. Clinton herself is now engaging in a particular feminine (and particularly unpleasant) psychological turmoil – the hashing and rehashing of saying too little or saying too much, the spinning in one’s head that maybe you just are too little or you just are too much. And there’s the biting isolation of concluding it must be you who is terribly and irredeemably flawed, and the gut-punch that comes when others agree by demeaning or threatening you – you, who individually and obviously does not belong here, whether “here” is on the presidential debate stage, in the corner office, or walking down the street in a new summer dress.”
When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” – Malala Yousafzai