How opportunities and failures have dual importance in business and life
As millennials, there are a lot of “if” conversations that surround us. Looking ahead in our future we think big, bright, and bold. Even so, the forecast can seem pretty uncertain; not particularly because of any one reason — whether it is a socioeconomic circumstance, political event, or historical phenomenon — but because as individuals we are unpredictable. As we grow, we change: pretty simple? Yet for most of us, the constant hypotheticals of “what if” systemically run through our mind. We ask ourselves, if we could just attain that perfect title or position then we can increase our net worth… right?
We invest time trying to meet the real or self-imposed checklist of priorities in front of us. If we attend a certain school then we will get into XYZ program, if we choose this group of friends we will be linked to this network, if we go through this preparation regiment we will obtain success. In essence, behind the question “if,” is a search for validation and proper recognition for our efforts in whatever area it may be. Yet, in searching for those tangible, consumer titles and positions we start to forget that our real “net worth” does not come from taking on new tasks and responsibilities, but how we take care of them and how they change us along the way.
In her commencement address to the 2013 Harvard graduating class, Oprah Winfrey, multi-billionaire media personality, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, spoke to the importance of valuing and cherishing both opportunities and failures for the way they influence personal growth and development. Facing one of the biggest challenges and initial personal defeats in launching the OWN network, Winfrey spoke from the heart about why, even for one of the most recognized woman in America, it can be hard to bounce back in the face of criticism and financial setback.
Even with all of her accolades, enviable contacts, and years of stardom, it was not easy for Winfrey to look at herself without even inflicting her own criticism. Yet, her signature presence and organic passion for journalism was still there and she knew how to build herself up again — this time stronger.
Winfrey could not have said it better in her 2013 commencement:
“The challenge of life is to build a resume that doesn’t simply tell a story about what you want to be but who you want to be. When you inevitably stumble and find yourself in a hole, that is the story that will get you out.”
I am sure that even if Oprah plotted out her life story since first appearing on television in the 1980s she could never have pictured herself standing on that stage earning an honorary law degree from Harvard. Life took her for some unexpected twists and turns, but it is the person she became through facing the obstacles that makes her career anything but cookie cutter.
Winfrey is certainly not the only female who has accomplished much with her career while weathering its ups and downs, and she will not be the last. Another businesswoman, who infused her work with humanity, making it her own art form in spite of the ominous, lackluster expectations surrounding her, comes from a much older time.
In the 1920s, one of fashion’s premier icons and an enduring legacy, Gabrielle Chanel, made significant waves as a businesswoman and designer. With a less than modest background, Coco found herself pinching pennies as a seamstress and singer before finally finding financing to open her first shop in 1910 on the Rue Cambon in Paris. She fashioned modern, simplistic menswear inspired designs, seeking the support of her sister and aunt to model for her as well as amiable male acquaintances to promote her brand.
Among the elitist Parisian designers and connoisseurs, Chanel was a refreshing novelty in couture fashion with its excessive frills and finery- so much so that her work earned her a spot as the only designer to make TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century. Chanel’s look was inspired by her own understanding and passion for elegance, despite having little access to the finer things growing up. Her fashion staples still define expensive simplicity and elegance internationally today.
The existence of successful businesswomen is not unique to our age and time. Sure, these women are considered “first” in many aspects, but I firmly believe it is because they infused their passion and purpose in their work — before lofty titles and heavy-handed expectations — that ultimately launched their careers and helped them stay afloat.
I encourage you that whatever your passion or purpose, “OWN” it like Oprah Winfrey, both the successes and the setbacks. Enrich lifeless positions and titles, let them come to life; infuse them with every bit of your humanity. Perhaps this means adding something to the material, intellectual, and moral well being of the place or position; whatever it is, let it be YOU.
I wish you success as you continue dreaming and envisioning for the future. And remembering the unpredictable forecast we all face, make sure to pack that businesswoman umbrella, so that when stormy weather does come your way (and it likely will) you will be better prepared to handle it, and may even benefit in the long run.
Nicole Chacin will graduate in 2015 from George Washington University with a degree in business economics and public policy with a minor in vocal music. She plans on getting a JD/MBA after college and dreams of working in health policy and administration. She was a part of the first Forté College Leadership Conference and is the creative designer and co-founder of Chicago Boutique.