You've had a tough day.
Or maybe a tough week, or even a tough year.
You think you're about to throw in the towel. You think you don't have the talent or brains, but what if that's not the secret that female leaders have consistently used to power through setbacks, tragedies, and challenges?
According to researcher Angela Duckworth, grit is the secret ingredient that strong female leaders have had in the arc of their lives.
What is it? Grit is the perfect mix of of non-cognitive skills, such as resolve and tenacity. It’s the resilience to cut through the flak and haze after you’ve suffered a setback, failure or disappointment. It’s staying committed to your goals and a belief in yourself and/or to a greater cause. And it's not something that's just a trend - it’s a powerful motivational tool that helps men and women both their work and personal lives.
Here are nine examples of strong female leaders who show you that quitting is simply not an option; and how they channeled their grit to power them through the dark nights into the sunny days beyond.
1. Sheryl Sandberg
“I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void: the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning.”
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is a prime example of a woman whose grit helped her power through major life challenges. After Sheryl lost her husband Dave Goldberg in 2015, with two young children to support, she went back to work and found meaning in her loss by helping others who are struggling with life challenges by sharing her own life lessons.
These challenges and experiences led her to write the book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, in which she discusses insights into science and research related to human experiences, and how to build resilience through these challenges.
2. Barbara Corcoran
"I've since learned that you need to treat obstacles just like opportunity -- quickly without much thought and move on."
It's no wonder that Barbara was selected as a host for Shark Tank. The author of Shark Tales and famous realtor failed at over 20 jobs earlier in life before she decided to leave her job as a waitress and open her own tiny real estate practice in New York City after borrowing $1,000 from her boyfriend at the time. She built it up to 300 employees before the recession in the 1990s forced her to leave her own company and work for someone else in order to earn a salary just to pay rent.
“Everybody laughed at me because they thought I was a failure," Corcoran says.
Always a fighter, Barbara didn't let that challenge stop her. It wasn't long before he returned the company she founded after the recession, with all 300 staff still onboard!
3. Anne Wojcicki
“I have had a lot of setbacks that I learned from.”
Once named "the most daring CEO in America" by FastCompany, Anne grew up with an outspoken mother who, worked in academia and had no fear of ruffling feathers. The benefit of having such a strong female role model early in her life was that it made Wojcicki ready to take on some of the challenges she would face later on in her adult life as the CEO of 23andMe, a direct-to-consumer genetic testing service. In 2013, she encountered regulatory resistance by the FDA, which banned her company from selling those services. New signups dropped by over 50% putting the company's financial health in serious question.
But Anne isn't someone who can be dissuaded so easily. She persisted for two years, working closely with the FDA to understand their objections and regulations, and eventually she was able to bring a lighter version of the testing service back back into market while also building out additional services for her her company.
4. Oprah Winfrey
"Turn your wounds into wisdom."
As one of the most famous women in America of modern times, Oprah Winfrey needs no introduction.
Oprah is no stranger to major challenges and setbacks in life, all of which helped her grow more resilient and successful. It was only at the age of 19 that she became the co-anchor of a news desk in Nashville’s, becoming that city's first black and female news anchor. That role helped her land the coveted spot of evening news anchor at a larger station in Baltimore which unfortunately didn't last long - she was demoted to a less visible spot doing morning news.
What everyone noticed about Oprah was her amazing ability to connect with people. Soon, she was offered a position at a local morning talk show, called Baltimore Is Talking, and with her on-board it soon was at the top in ratings. Not long after, a talk show opportunity for an affiliate station in Chicago came to her attention and she went for it.
Soon enough, Winfrey transformed it into Chicago’s highest rated talk show, which everyone now knows as The Oprah Winfrey Show. With the confidence that came from having all this experience under her belt, she soon formed her own production company called Harpo Productions and negotiated the rights to her show, ensuring creative control.
Having the resilience to keep going after multiple disadvantages and setbacks is what made Winfrey into the icon that she is today.
“Not all my memories of Baltimore are fond ones,” Winfrey went on the record to say. “But I do have fond memories of Baltimore, because it grew me into a real woman.”
5. Angela Duckworth
“Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint.”
Angela speaks in a well-known TED Talk about how she was only 27 when she quit her career as a management consultant to become a math teacher in the New York City public school system. It was there in her second career that she really learned about, and became obsessed with "grit", a non-cognitive skill.
“Some of my strongest performers did not have stratospheric IQ scores,” Duckworth mentions in her TED Talk. “Some of my smartest kids weren’t doing so well.”
Through her research, Angela has found that two things - passion and perseverance - really predict how successful a person will be academically and professionally. Her own grit was what helped her write the New York Times bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
6. Mellody Hobson
"It would be lovely to think that success was a result of my being extraordinary, but the answer is far more boring. I worked hard. Really hard."
Mellody, the president of the well-regarded financial firm Ariel Investments, located in Chicago, isn’t as well-known as some of the other ladies on this list, but we've included her here because she is a prime example of a strong leader who exemplifies grit.
Growing up without a father, Mellody credits her mother as a pivotal figure who developed her strong character. A well-meaning business woman who didn’t have certain practical skills, Hobson's mother unfortunately often got the family evicted from homes during Hobson’s childhood.
“Even though I will never be evicted again, I am haunted by those times and still work relentlessly,” Hobson once wrote. “When I think of my career and why I leaned in, it comes down to basic survival.”
Despite these challenges, Hobson's mother instilled independence and competence in her from a young age. “My mom would say, ‘You have a birthday party to go to? Well, you can’t go unless you’ve planned how to get there and how to get a present.’” Hobson said. “She wouldn’t do that for me. I found my own orthodontist, my own high school. I set up interviews and did college trips. Despite her incredible concern and caring, my mom didn’t have the capacity for that. It was outside her experience, and she knew I was on top of it.”
7. Joanne Kathleen Rowling
“Do not ever quit out of fear of rejection.”
Also known by her recent pen-name Robert Galbraith, J.K. Rowling is definitely my favorite out of this entire list. Long before she became well-known, J.K. Rowling was eking out an existence as a single mother on social support in the United Kingdom. She often sat in cafes in Edinburgh while working on her book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. After she was finished, her agent went through 12 different publishers with the manuscript, constantly getting rejected, before it finally found a buyer.
Little known fact: J. K. Rowling does not actually have a middle name. Her name is Joanne Rowling, and Kathleen was her grandmother's name which she added as her middle name because her grandmother was source of strength and inspiration for her.
Earlier this year, in June of 2017, Rowling, who is a Twitter enthusiast, looked back on her days of struggle and offered a message of strength and grit to other writers. She quoted a tweet from a fellow writer that said: "HEY! YOU! You're working on something and you're thinking 'Nobody's gonna watch, read, listen.' Finish it anyway." The Harry Potter author added: "There were so many times in the early '90s when I needed somebody to say this to me. It's great advice for many reasons."
She encourages other writers to finish their books. "Even if it isn't the piece of work that finds an audience, it will teach you things you could have learned no other way."
8. Diana Nyad
“I'm not going into that good night. I am going to fire up and live this thing as large as I can live it until I can't live it that large anymore."
It wasn't until the fifth attempt in September 2013, that Diana Nyad, then 64 years old, was successful in her bid to swim more than 110 miles from Cuba to Florida. Nyad referred to that span of ocean she intended to conquer as “Mother Nature on Steroids,” because of the amount of sharks and jellyfish in the water along the way.
Her previous attempts had ended for a variety of challenges, including being stung by box jellyfish, which has some of the most deadliest poison in the world.
Nyad said that the greatest motivation to take on the swim challenge was her mother’s death four years earlier. It not only made her keenly aware of the limited time she had left but strengthened her the will to “find a way” -- which became her motto.
And oh boy, find a way, she did. Spending close to 53 hours in the water, she made history becoming first person to complete the swim from Cuba to Florida.
9. Mary Kay Ash
“If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.”
It was after WWII that Mary Kay Ash, founder of the eponymous cosmetics giant, came face-to-face with one of the biggest "sink of swim" challenges of her life: her husband abandoned her for another woman, leaving her to support three young children all alone. Being assertive and outgoing, she found employment working for direct-sales companies. Yet, even though she was a star performer, she constantly found herself challenged by the dismissive attitude of her her male colleagues, who undervalued her contributions to the team.
Mary Kay decided to quit her career in 1962 to write a guide for working women. While writing it, she realized she could start her own company that fit her ideals of a world-class company. All she had to do was to find a product or service that she really believed in, to supply to women of all ages everywhere.
At this time, she was in her 40s and remarried to a second husband. Mary Kay invested all of her life’s savings into the production of a skin softener she’d been using for herself. Her next step was to rent a storefront and build a team of saleswomen, which had nine ladies.
Tragedy struck when her second husband suddenly died. Despite being counseled against proceeding with her startup, a month after losing her husband she decided to open shop. It was one of the best decisions she ever made - in the span of 12 months, her sales had reached $800,000 for the year 1964. Adjusted for inflation, that amount would be $6.34M in today's (2017) dollars. And not only that, but her salesforce had grown to more than 3,000 staff. Not too shabby for a startup!
Speaking of today, Mary Kay Cosmetics is a private company specializing in direct sales in over 40 markets globally through 3.5 million independent consultants, and $3.5 billion in sales (as of 2016).
These examples are just a tiny drop in the bucket of all the women in history who refused to give up, and it was their perseverance and grit that saw them through the day. Their stories illustrate that talent or brains often have nothing to do with success; it's all about smiling and sticking through it, rain or shine!
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