Lindsey Vonn & 5 More Female Leaders On Overcoming Challenges & Rethinking Failure
Since nine years old, Lindsey Vonn had the goal of becoming the best skier. With 82 World Cup victories, 20 World Cup titles, three Olympic medals, and seven World Championship medals under her belt, Vonn is considered the most successful female skier of all time. Now, eight months into her retirement from professional skiing, Vonn has a brand new motivation and passion: launching a beauty brand.
Vonn says she's always felt more confident on the mountain or at the gym when she wears makeup — she calls it her "game face"— but she's struggled to find products that worked for her. That's why she's getting ready to launch a business and fill a white space she sees in the beauty industry.
"I love the message that's out there, but there's also a need for a different message and a need for self-care and not so much about being extreme, but just taking care of yourself and having something that works for your everyday life," Vonn tells Bustle at JPMorgan Chase's Women on the Move Leadership Day at Radio City Music Hall. "I'm trying to not change the narrative but make my own narrative within the industry."
Transitioning fields isn't easy when you've been in your career for decades. And when going 85 miles an hour down a mountain is a typical part of your job, it's likely a different type of adjustment. "I find skiing to be incredibly fun and not scary at all," Vonn says. "I find starting a business to be incredibly scary and I guess it's just a comfort level. I don't have as much confidence in this new space, but [...] so is everything starting out and I have to just find my way and go from there."
As someone who's dealt with ups and downs in her career, Vonn's ready to face what comes her way. "From all the entrepreneurs I've met, they've said that there will be obstacles and you will have things that will fail or things that won't sell as well," she says. "And you have to figure out a way to pick yourself back up, which is the same thing as skiing, it's kind of been my theme song was like, 'If you fall, get back up.'
In skiing, Vonn has not only overcome setbacks, but she's also learned to re-frame limitations, too.
"In skiing I had limitations as far as they wouldn't let me race against the men. There was no way around it. I tried my best, but it didn't work. But with my injuries I always found a way to overcompensate. I couldn't jump. I couldn't run. I was very limited. So I had to be really creative and find other ways to stay in shape and to be prepared for the season. And that was kind of my narrative and that's been my narrative for the last five years is figure out a way through it," she says.
Vonn says she's learned from other entrepreneurs who were initially told their ideas were bad or that they'd never be successful. "They all found a way to make it work," Vonn says. "They believe in themselves and their product, and I think that's the biggest thing is just to work hard enough to ensure that what you believe in comes through."
But Vonn wasn't the only one at Women on the Move Leadership Day to talk about overcoming hardships in her career. Here's what more leaders who spoke at the event had to say about self-doubt, mistakes, and the importance of embracing failure.
1. Tell A New Story
"We make up a lot of stories about ourselves," Lisa McCarthy, founder and CEO of Fast Forward Group, a training and coaching company that helps people thrive professionally and personally, said on stage at Women on the Move Leadership Day. As humans, we're hardwired to create stories and then collect evidence for them, she said. But as a result, we may start to suffer negative consequences, like loss of sleep, motivation, and confidence.
McCarthy went through real examples — some of which may sound familiar — like, it's not going to work out with your new boss, you're not going to get another client, or progressing in your career means you'll have to make too many sacrifices. According to McCarthy, we constantly add to these stories to prove we're right, but it happens at the expense of our happiness. "You have the power to choose a new story," she said.
McCarthy recommends brainstorming alternatives for a new story with a friend. "You have to think about your story as a new lens to look through, viewing the same people, the same circumstances, assuming they're not going to change you are," McCarthy said. By looking through a new lens, you'll take actions you wouldn't have normally taken. To override the system though, you'll have to stop telling yourself the old story.
"Every single day you can choose to be right or choose to happy," McCarthy said. "It's entirely up to you."
2. Turn Failure Into Your Fuel
When Amy Wombach, former professional soccer player and co-founder of Wolfpack Endeavor, was 16 years old she took a tour of the U.S. national women's team's locker room and quickly became confused. She saw a photo of the 1995 Norwegian women's team celebrating their win against the U.S. team, the one that knocked the U.S. out of the World Cup a year prior, hanging on the door. It wasn't until years later when she made it to the national team that she realized its significance.
"Failure is a mindset," Wombach said at Women on the Move Leadership Day. "It is something that can be managed and grown. You can actually turn your mind around when bad things happen to you. Sure, they hurt. Sure, they're disappointing. But you have a choice in how you're going to respond to it."
Referencing 1-goal or games where no one scores, Wombach says there's a ton of failure that's actually happening consistent basis in soccer. "Every successful person I've ever met, when you ask them how they got successful they don't say what they've done well," she says. "Most of them talk about times they fell and then got up. Failure is an opportunity, but it'll never be an opportunity if you don't see it that way."
In 2015, when Wombach was 35 and leading the U.S. team into last World Cup she'd ever play, she had the choice to see failure as opportunity. She thought she would score more goals than everyone else and be the person the team relied on, but she was benched instead. She envisioned two paths from this point: She could sit on the bench and not cheer for players on the field while pouting, or she could be a positive teammate cheering on her players. She chose to be become the best bench player there was ever was and helped bring home a championship.
"Everyone knows what it feels like to benched," Wombach said. "We have an opportunity. You're allowed to be disappointed when life benches you, but what you're not allowed to do is miss your opportunity to lead from that bench."
4. Retrain Your Brain
If you ever feel like stress gets in your way of performing a task or facing a high-stress situation, you're not alone. You can actually see biological signals of worry in the brain, Dr. Sian Beilock, president of Barnard College, said at Women on the Move Leadership Day. Worrying can disrupt our ability to focus and do our best.
But it's actually possible to retrain your way of thinking. "We don't have to focus on these negative thoughts that come in," Beilock said. "We can actually retrain how we think about what we're doing. When that negativity comes in and we're dwelling on a failure, change it. Think about what you did wrong on a non-emotional term and what you're going to change the next time. It quiets down those neural alarm signals. You'll be ready to go."
To combat imposter syndrome or self-doubt, according to Beilock, you should prep for high-stress situations in similar conditions. Instead of practicing a presentation for perfection, practice in front of co-workers or video tape it.
Beilock also said it's important to give yourself the right kind of pep talk before a high-stress situation. Instead of saying "I'll do great", self-distance using your first name in your pep talk and speak to yourself as you would a friend.
Lastly, if you're noticing signs that your body is nervous, like sweaty palms and a beating heart, remind yourself these reactions are normal, that your body is sending important resources to your brain, and these things don't actually hurt your chances of performing.
It's perfectly normal to worry that you deserve a seat at the table, Beilock said, especially if you're part of a historically underrepresented group, but by knowing what's happening in the body and brain, we can have the tools to perform at our very best.
5. Failure Is Your Best Souvenir
"You don't get success and everything goes up, up, up — it doesn't exist," von Furstenberg said at Women on the Move Leadership Day. "You go up, down, you have failures, and you make mistakes."
But von Furstenberg thinks you can put those failures to good use. "Those failures and those mistakes are the most fun things to tell later when you have a speaking engagement," she said. "They're your best souvenirs. Your failures and vulnerabilities are just about the best thing for you. I went up and down and I reinvent myself every day."
Von Furstenberg says to envision a magazine cover star. As powerful as they may seem on the cover, they may look at that cover and know their life isn't what it seems. On the other hand, when things aren't going well for you and people think you've failed, you may know you're actually on your way to making a comeback.
She says at least two times a week she wakes up and feels like a total loser. If that sounds familiar, von Furstenberg shared this great piece of advice: "When I feel like a loser, I go in front of the mirror and I say, 'when you doubt your power, you give power to your doubts.'
From telling yourself a new story to taking the lead when you're benched, these female leaders prove that failure isn't just inevitable for everyone, but it can be a major opportunity for growth, too.