After 13 years of running my marketing and PR agency, Stanton & Company, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve been through lots of ups and downs and had many moments when I’ve looked myself in the mirror and asked, “Why am I doing this?” “Is this worth it?” and, “Am I even good at this?” Time and time again, I’ve come back to the realization that I have chosen and continue to choose this path because I love it.
And, while things are never perfect and I still have more to learn each and every day, I like to think that I’m the best I’ve ever been. What does that mean? It means that through all of my many learning experiences, I’ve gained invaluable knowledge and life lessons. This is life experience. This is wisdom. And so we get better and better—wiser and wiser—as we move through our lives.
Moments of failure and challenge have been the biggest sources of this wisdom, learning and growth. And as someone with high expectations for myself, I’ve been hard on myself along the way. And as we all do, I’ve experienced fear of the unknown, insecurity and self-doubt. Of course all of this is human and to a degree, inevitable.
That said, it would be nice if I could turn back time and give myself some valuable advice based on the many lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Clearly, that’s not possible. But I can share it with you!
1. Failure is (almost) always a gift.
Something that feels like a failure isn’t really a loss if you learn a valuable lesson from the experience. When something goes wrong, there’s always something to be learned—and where you end up is always better than where you started. It’s always a growth experience. We’re always stronger after these “failures.” Next time, we’ll know how to handle that challenge and that we can handle it!
For example, I used to feel that if things weren’t working with an employee, that was on me. I felt like a failure as a boss when I couldn’t figure out how to make things work with an employee who eventually left. But time and time again, the people we’ve hired when someone leaves are wonderful in new and different ways. They bring fresh energy and new perspectives. I realized this perceived “failure” can be a blessing in disguise. I’ve even looked back at these situations wondering why I’d struggled so hard to make something work when it clearly wasn’t the right fit.
It’s all about perception. When you view failure as an opportunity for growth, virtually every misstep can help you put your best foot forward the next time around.
2. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
As a former (well, recovering) perfectionist, I’ve learned that perfectionism can be unhealthy and counterproductive.
These days, I know that I’m doing my best and that’s enough. There’s so much that’s out of our control, truly! I used to waste so much time being hard on myself about everything from work to my personal life. By learning to give myself a break, I became a better boss—because I knew how to do the same for others.
As the famous quote goes, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” And in the same vein, Confucius said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”
Don’t aim for perfection. Instead, focus on consistently getting better.
3. Things aren’t black and white.
My grandmother, who was a huge influence on me, always used to think of things as black and white. And while I see the merits in that perspective—for example, sometimes it’s helpful to clearly understand the difference between right and wrong—I’ve learned you can’t usually categorize things this way. It’s overly idealistic and simplistic.
People are complex. We aren’t just “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong.” Morality is much more nuanced. And we never fully understand the whole picture. We never know why someone is the way they are; we don’t know what they’ve been through. So the less time we spend judging people, the better.
This categorization and divisiveness—putting people, moments, decisions, actions into categories of good vs. bad—creates more problems than we’re even aware of. It blinds us and makes us unwilling or unable to consider opposing viewpoints.
There’s power in rising above that and recognizing—even appreciating—the gray areas of life.
4. When you’re in your own head, turn your focus to others.
We don’t realize it, but when we’re in our own heads obsessing over something, we’re unnecessarily self-absorbed. These thoughts can be a waste of time and energy, as enlightened teacher Preethaji explains in her TEDx Talk.
Doing something nice for someone else can be the perfect way to help you get out of your own head.
Pick up the phone and call a friend who is going through a tough time. Leave a nice note for an employee. Buy someone you care about an unexpected gift. Volunteer at a local homeless shelter. Get involved in a philanthropic cause you care about.
While this may not resolve the issue that was bothering you originally, you’ll be surprised by how much this opens your mind to the bigger picture. It helps put things in perspective and remind us what’s important.
5. You have to trust your intuition.
Life experience has taught me time and time again that nothing is more important than trusting my gut. Nothing will be more right more of the time than my very own intuition.
So many times, things have worked out because I followed my gut instinct. And there have been times when I could have (or should have) trusted my gut but didn’t—things didn’t turn out quite so well in those circumstances.
We all have intuition. We all have this gift. It’s all about learning to use it, trust it, rely on it.
We aren’t trusting our gut in the absence of other critical information—we’re using it in addition. It is our built in and trustworthy guide.
We can develop it and learn to trust it by practicing and exploring how and when it can be most valuable.
You’ll be amazed at how simple life can be once you learn to listen carefully to the information your intuition is providing you.
6. Your sensitivity is a superpower.
I now see my emotionality and sensitivity as some of my greatest strengths.
Early in my career, I repressed these qualities for fear of being considered “unprofessional” or “oversensitive.” I felt I needed to “toughen up” and operate more like a man to “thrive in a man’s world.”
Over time, I’ve recognized that the toughness, assertiveness and directness I’ve developed in my career are endlessly valuable — but in conjunction with my emotionality, sensitivity and vulnerability.
As my co-author Catherine Connors and I talk about in our book, “The Feminine Revolution,” many soft, traditionally feminine qualities that have historically been seen as weak are actually extremely powerful—both in work and in life.
Learning to embrace my femininity—my emotions, vulnerability, sensitivity, mothering nature and more—have helped me show up as the most authentic version of myself. And we’re our happiest and most confident when we can show up fully.
Life is an ongoing journey of integrating this wisdom—these life lessons—so that each day we can wake up and be the best we’ve ever been.