6 Badass Women who Didn’t Let Failure Stop Them

You might think we’re nuts, but we think the word “failure” gets a pretty bad rap. For most of us, even just the idea of overcoming fear of failure comes with a negative connotation, like a nagging sense of something unrequited or unresolved; or worse, the notion of our own incompetence.

But what would happen if you recast the word failure in your mind? What if failure is actually nothing more than a springboard for success?

Not to get all mystical or anything, but we all know that without darkness there is no night. Without mud, there is no lotus. The sun, the moon; Yin, Yang…you get the drift. The point is that failure, if seen with the right perspective, can really be the necessary flipside of some unforeseeable forthcoming success. Like a great and mysterious catalyzer.

So instead of wallowing in the disappointment of our failures, we can see failure as a sign that some particular thing was not meant to pan out in the way we had imagined. Or as an indicator that it’s time to pivot. Or even just as something we have to chalk up as another notch of experience.

Nely Galán, SELF MADE’s author and founder, always says that her failure resume is twice as long as her success resume. What she means is that more often than not, we’re destined to get things wrong. It’s just the way it is; we are imperfect beings and, and our nature is such that we have to keep at things in order to unravel our destinies.

So, instead of falling into a slump when we don’t ace things from the start, we should acknowledge our effort, take inventory of the lessons we learned, and go up to bat with renewed fervor, confident that our time will come, when all the bits and pieces are ripe and aligned. Life is many things, but if you want to truly be successful, we encourage you to start seeing it as a game of resilience.

With that in mind, we also invite you to take inspiration from the following list of incredible women, who, despite many obstacles found a way to prevail.

1. Hilda Solis

It was a long and winding road paved with hardship before her impressive political career came to be. Hilda grew up in a humble, working class family, where she often had to be the one to take care of her siblings. Despite her ambitions to make something of her life, her high school guidance counselor told her mother she was “not college material” and encouraged her to become a secretary. Thankfully, another (less ridiculous) counselor encouraged her to go to college and helped her with college applications, and Hilda was accepted into the Educational Opportunity Program, which assists low-income, first generation college students.

She became the first in her family to attend college at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, which Hilda paid for with government grants and part time jobs. She graduated with Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and earned Master of Public Administration in 1981 at University of Southern California.  So much for “not being college material.”

In 2000 she decided to run for the U.S. House of Representatives against Matthew G. Martinez, and was criticized by Hispanics and others. In fact, only two members of Congress supported her. But with the support of several groups, including the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, she was able to “outspend” her competition which proved valuable to her campaign, and she won the seat in March of 2000.

Despite the criticism that came with his choice, in December of 2008 President Barack Obama nominated Solis for the U.S. Secretary of Labor, the first Hispanic to fill this role. During her confirmation hearings she refused to answer questions in detail, which resulted in a secret hold being placed on her nomination. A vote was set for May 5, 2009 but postponed again due to an old tax bill owed by Solis’s husband for his auto repair business. She was finally approved on May 11, 2009 but further delays prevent her confirmation until February 24, 2009.

Hilda Solis became the first ever Hispanic Secretary of Labor, she left the position on January 22, 2013.

2. Ellen DeGeneres

Before holding court on her hit national morning show, and her reign as America’s favorite funny female, this comedienne had it rough. Her parents divorced at an early age, and Ellen had to step in as the adult in the house, and help take care of her mother. In 1997, before shows like Will & Grace and Ru Paul’s Drag Race and people like Caitlin were the norm, Ellen came out publically as a lesbian, something that few prime-time celebrities had ever really done. Her sitcom, Ellen, was cancelled, advertisers backed out and the show lost money. Her romantic relationship also ended around that time, and for a while she had trouble finding work. But none of that was enough to stop her.

Today, Ellen is known as “Queen of Daytime” television with her highly successful talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Beyond being the star on that show, she’s also a TV producer; a former Cover Girl; she appeared in Forbes’ Most Powerful Women’s list 2015; she created a clothing line; and made a best-selling app called Heads Up, based on the game she played on her show. Ellen, please never stop. We freaking love you.

3. Robin Roberts

This athlete turned anchor turned author from Alabama credits her parents with instilling “the three Ds” in her: discipline, determination and “de Lord.” She graduated cum laude from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, LA, with a degree in communication. But she was also a standout performer on the women’s basketball team with an average of 15.2 points per game during her senior year. Between 1983 and 2005 she worked as a sports anchor and reporter for WDAM-TV in Mississippi, WSMV-TV in Nashville, WAGA-TV in ATL, ESPN Sportscaster and at ABC, as a feature reporter for Good Morning America, where in 2009, together with George Stephanopoulos, she was known to get GMA back to the top of the ratings.

The sky was the limit for this multifaceted go-getter. Until breast cancer brought all this to a screeching halt in 2007. She underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, and then in 2012 was diagnosed with a rare blood disease, Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), as a result of chemo from breast cancer. Robin had to take a leave of absence from GMA to undergo a bone marrow transplant.

After her recovery, she returned to GMA with renewed strength. She came out as lesbian publicly for the first time, won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award 2013, was named one of ESPNW’s Impact 25 in 2014, and was one of Equality Forums 31 Icons during 2015’s LGBT History Month. Her third book, Everybody’s Got Something, was published in 2014.

4. Vera Wang

Born in New York to affluent Chinese immigrants and raised on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Vera, a former figure skater who competed professionally, was poised to succeed. But things didn’t go as smoothly as everyone might have expected. In 1968, she failed to make the U.S. Olympic team in 1968. So she pivoted to another one of her interests, fashion, and started working with Vogue magazine in 1971, where she was promoted to Senior Fashion Editor within a year. Ever ambitious, she stayed in this position for 15 years, and in 1987 she was passed over the position of Editor-In-Chief in favor of Anna Wintour. Ouch.

But as hard as that blow may have been, Vera Wang was intent on success. She went to work for Ralph Lauren in 1987 as director of accessories, and then, after sketching her own wedding dress and having it made for $10,000, got the idea to launch her own bridal boutique. In time, Vera Wang Bridal House was born, along with a fragrance, a published a wedding guide, lingerie, jewelry and products for the home. In 2006, she landed an exclusive deal with Kohl’s to produce an affordable line of ready-to-wear clothing called Simply Vera.

Today, her bridal and evening wear is sold at over 55 upscale retailers including Saks and Neiman Marcus, and her signature looks are all over red carpets and VIP events. In 1993 she was the Chinese American Planning Council Honoree of the Year; she won a Girl Scout Council’s Woman of Distinction Award in 1994; she was also elected to Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) that year; and in 2005 the CFDA elected her as Womenswear Designer of the Year. Take that, Anna Wintour.

5. Stephanie Myers

The second of six kids in a Mormon family, Stephanie Myers grew up helping her mom out with her younger siblings, during which she developed a love for reading. She majored in English literature in college, and in 1997 not only graduated but also married and had her first baby. So began her role as stay-at-home mom, during which she penned a 500-page manuscript in three months, with the goal of finding a publisher.

But Stephanie kept hitting walls. Her manuscript was rejected 14 times before an agent finally took it on. That manuscript was Twighlight. That’s right, ‘the’ Twilight, the famous teen vampire saga that became a bestseller with over 250 million copies sold, was translated into 37 languages and adapted to a highly successful five-installment film series. In 2011, Stephanie landed on Forbes’ 2011 Celebrity 100 list, and Twilight was honored as a New York Times “Editor’s Choice and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year.”

6. Katy Perry

The child of pastors in Santa Barbara, CA, Katy Perry was not allowed to watch MTV, VH1, or listen to any rock or popular music, except the Sister Act 1 & 2 soundtracks. She loved to sing and play guitar, and even dropped out of high school to pursue music. She got her GED, moved to LA, and in 2001 recorded a gospel album, Katy Hudson, which was released under Red Hill Records. The album was a flop, only sold 200 copies and the label went bankrupt.

For five straight years Katy had to sell her clothes just to make rent, wrote bad checks and borrowed money left and right. In 2003, she was signed to Def Jam but the contract was terminated shortly thereafter. In 2004 she was signed to Columbia Records as a lead vocalist in the band Matrix, but the project was shelved before completion. To make ends meet while losing deals, she worked as a backup singer and other odd jobs.  

Then in 2006, she was signed to Capitol Music Group, where her hit single, I Kissed a Girl launched her to success. The song earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and the release of Teenage Dreams made her one of the country’s top pop stars.

So, as you see, failure happens. It’s an unavoidable part of the process. But seldom is it the end of something—and more often than not, it’s there to not only teach you something valuable, but to make room for whatever is coming next.