Over the course of my career, including being CEO of Likeable Media, host of the “All the Social Ladies” podcast, and now an author, I have learned that there is no one secret, core philosophy or tool guaranteed to help us women achieve our goals and dreams, especially in a world that celebrates those who are loud, extroverted, and male. You don’t have to lean in, identify as a badass or embrace your inner #girlboss if it’s not the right path for you. We each have strengths and weaknesses — different obstacles to overcome. Our stories and solutions can be very different. In my career, I have spoken with countless powerful women across industries, each with an important lesson to teach about success, failure, and entrepreneurship.
Here are four of those lessons:
1. When someone gives you a much-needed push, jump
Many can relate to the feeling of self-doubt after making major decisions. Caroline Ghosn experienced just this after joining McKinsey & Company. While she had always displayed many entrepreneurial qualities — making and selling her own pottery, for example — she was unsure of what to do when she discovered she wasn’t, actually, cut out for the corporate world. The idea of leaving an established operation to build her own was a lot. It turns out, she needed a little push from her fellow McKinsey employee and eventual cofounder, Amanda Pouchot, to take action. After talking together and hashing out the pros and cons of leaving, Caroline had the confidence she needed to make a move. “She was the one who encouraged me to really ‘preneur myself. And once I did, I never looked back.” The result? Caroline became the cofounder and CEO of Levo, a professional network dedicated to helping over ten million millennials around the world navigate the workplace.
2. Trust your gut — and listen to your trusted advisors
Therapist Bea Arthur founded Pretty Padded Room, a website offering convenient, low-cost therapy online for women, when she discovered a lack in the therapy process. She kept thinking, It should be easier to do this. People should be able to talk when they need it, where they need it. And she was right — Pretty Padded Room became a success. She consistently earned fantastic media coverage, and investors started to pool money into her operation. But after making a major decision to rebrand the company to In Your Corner (believing men, reluctant to seek treatment when struggling, needed services even more), competitors started to emerge during her months of “stealth planning mode.” And they were raising tens of millions. Her gut told her something wasn’t right, but press hits and new advisors kept coming, so she pushed on.
But Bea’s business never fully recovered from the lengthy process of rebranding. When she texted her advisor, famed investor and entrepreneur Gina Bianchini, she was advised to close up shop. Bea took that advice on April 22, 2016. And then, she saw the opportunities around her. “Here’s the thing they don’t tell you when the world is ending. The world is actually much bigger and brighter than you think,” she recalls of that time. Bea started speaking publicly about her failure, took on consulting gigs, and rebuilt herself, eventually founding a new think tank around mental health called The Difference, based on the concept that the right talk at the right time can make all the difference.
3. Allow yourself time to wallow after failure. When that time is up, #workit
Reshma Saujani was devastated when she lost her first run for Congress. She was pegged to win and had no intention of losing. She knew she first had to hit pause, grieve, and process her failure during a finite amount of time. Three months later, she began to take meetings again, trying to figure out what she wanted to do next. She realized she wanted to work for the future and do some good. So, she founded Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit that focuses on today’s girls who would be tomorrow’s leaders. Dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology, the organization has since taught over forty thousand girls coding skills.
4. If you’re concerned about risk, consider the side hustle
Betty Liu had always felt the pull of entrepreneurship, but because she was also risk averse, she suppressed that desire, ultimately becoming a successful anchor for Bloomberg Television. Later, still not able to shake the feeling that she wanted more, Betty realized that the risk of entrepreneurship was actually limited. “There is a finite downside: your idea fails and you go bankrupt. Okay. Fine. But there’s infinite upside,” she says. Betty and a cofounder set out to build Radiate, a media technology platform that features business advice from top leaders. Starting Radiate on the side, she kept her full-time position, which gave her a unique advantage. Working at Bloomberg, Betty has had the opportunity to interview—and learn from—many entrepreneurs. She’s heard all the fairy tales and all of the stories of failure, and the biggest thing she’s learned: “The only thing that matters is doing what’s right for you and your company.”
Carrie Kerpen is CEO of Likeable Media and author of WORK IT: Secrets for Success from the Boldest Women in Business.