Take the Risk … Success Is often Built on Failure

Working women, no matter our profession or industry, still face enormous challenges when it comes to achieving parity with our male colleagues. We know this, just as we know that many of these challenges are cultural and institutional, and will therefore require united effort to overcome. As a member of my law firm’s board of directors, it is work that I take very seriously, particularly when mentoring associates just starting to establish themselves in the legal profession.

That said, I am equally interested in how we, as individual women, can have a positive impact on our own professional development. Over the years, I have come to recognize that our fear of failure, our aversion to taking risks, and our concerns about the judgments of others can have negative effects on our potential success (however we define success for ourselves).

I would like to be clear, up front: my focus on risk aversion and risk taking is not about blaming the victim. There are external factors, double standards, and a raft of mixed messages and real-world repercussions that contribute to why girls and women often fear failure. We, as leaders, can’t ask young women to risk making mistakes if we’re not willing to offer support when things don’t go as planned.

As we work together to remove extrinsic barriers and create lasting change, each of us must also do the hard, internal work of facing—and overcoming—the things that scare us most.

For some, acting with confidence may mean choosing a career in a traditionally male-dominated field. For others, it may mean speaking up—even offering contrasting opinions—in meetings with colleagues or organizational leaders. For still others, it may mean showing up to work every day despite what can feel like overwhelming challenges in other areas of life.

I can’t tell any woman what courage should look like or mean to her. All I can do is encourage her to risk failure. Virtually every great success has been built on a hill—if not a mountain—of failed attempts.