Think Like a Queen

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Archived from the week of 8/6/18 @ The Guilde:

Think like a queen.

A queen is not afraid to fail.

Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.

-- Oprah Winfrey

One thing is clear. If women are to become equal leaders, creators, legislators, inventors, and tastemakers of our world, we are going to have to get a lot more comfortable with failure.

The research builds a challenging case against us. Countless studies underscore the fact that women hold ourselves to impossibly high standards, opt out when we fall short of perfection, interpret failure as reflecting our innate capacity (or lack thereof), take failure personally, derive less confidence from positive feedback than men, and suffer a greater toll when negative feedback lands in our laps. What gives?

Our aversion to failure makes sense when measured against the equally plentiful data indicating that women who publicly put themselves on the line are consistently scrutinized more, held to higher standards, judged more harshly, valued less and given fewer opportunities. 

The narrative unfolds early. One study shows that boys and girls are encouraged and criticized differently in school. While teachers tend to provide boys effort-based feedback when they fail and ability-based feedback when they succeed, girls are more likely to receive feedback that their failures were based on ability while their successes were due to good behavior.

So far, all of this is depressing and decidedly un-queen like, but let’s bring in Oprah’s “think like a queen” perspective on the value of failure. Why in fact is it so important to increase our tolerance for failure?

The most standard response has to do with creating success. Failure is in the zeitgeist, and by now we all know that the road to success is paved with failure. The prescription to fail fast has become a beloved go-to in start-up culture. As serial entrepreneur, thought leader and self-proclaimed master of failure, Seth Godin, puts it, “I think it’s fair to say that I have failed more than most people. And I’m super proud of that. Part of the rules of this game is, the person who fails the most wins.”

So, yes, if we want to succeed, we need to broaden our capacity to suffer and rebound from failure. But, in our opinion, there’s an even bigger payoff to righting one’s relationship to failure. It’s aliveness.

The very queenly JK Rowling points to this in her 2008 Harvard Commencement speech. She advises, “You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

This resonates. Whether we like it or not -- or whether we listen or not -- the need to feel our aliveness is an essential human drive. It’s not enough to know we are alive. We want to relish it, prove it, reflect on it, celebrate it. And how do we accomplish that? That’s where failure can really work for us.

Failure is one of the most effective catalysts of aliveness because failure is a forced opportunity to expand beyond our known limits to where our raw, unmitigated life force and potential exist. When we fail and then in failure's midst, survive, we discover hidden reserves of strength, resourcefulness and creativity. We get to encounter ourselves, what we are made of, and against our own expectations, even thrive. This is life affirming. In transcending our limits, we gain sacred access to our aliveness.

True sovereignty is the right to this aliveness – the right to risk and fail and get back up and through this cycle discover one’s mettle, character and potency. Queens afford themselves this opportunity. Because queens see themselves as worthy of failure, resurrection and transcendence. Don't we all deserve to think like queens?

On our journey as partners, we have felt less than queen-like too many times to count, brought to our knees by dashed hopes, defied expectations and dissolved dreams. On the way down, these losses felt like small deaths, almost impossible to bear and from which we might never recover. We were certain we were failures and that failure would be the end of the story.

But then we’d wake up the next day and our hearts would still be beating! The thing we feared the most had happened and we didn’t die. These moments were defining forks in the road. In the face of loss, could we find the fortitude to re-invest in aliveness and rise from the ashes or would we give in to the slow decay that comes with giving up? Happy to report, we are still choosing the former.

The core of our partnership and of The Guilde is a dream that women’s leadership take a giant stride forward in our lifetimes; that the world gets to equally reflect the values, perspectives, ideals and vision of women. If and when this becomes true, yes, women will have succeeded on a vast scale. But maybe the more important measure of our success will be our worthiness to risk failure and, in the process, bring our unique contributions to the world.

To your aliveness!

Kristan & Dana