Stacey Abrams: The Vital Lessons You Can Learn From Failure

In her commencement address to Spelman College’s Class of 2022, Stacey Abrams drew from her wealth of political and business experience.

The 48-year-old former state legislator ran for governor of Georgia in 2018, and is running again in 2022. She also co-founded Now, a fintech company, in 2010. Her May 15 speech included hard-won advice on the subject of failure–a message that’s as applicable to entrepreneurs as it is to newly-graduated college students.

“Learn your lessons, not your losses,” she said.

Abrams explained the phrase means that every failure comes with an opportunity for education and a responsibility to act. She used her campaign for governor in 2018 as an example: She lost, but not attaining the office, she said, didn’t excuse her from pursuing the goals she’d outlined in her campaign. “Not getting everything you want doesn’t mean you got nothing from it,” she said. “It was enough if I was willing to take the promises I made and put them into action.

“Failure is inevitable but it is not permanent,” she added.

Abrams also highlighted the importance of recognizing how other people’s actions, in addition to your own, contributed to a failure. Doing so, she said, informs how you should react and approach the next scenario: “We bring [others] along with us, or we shut them out altogether.” 

Abrams shared two other important lessons in her speech: “Be bold in your ambition” and “Know your beliefs.” As part of the first one, she advised being humble but not self-effacing, explaining the distinction between the two when you’re trying to achieve a goal. Humility, she said, is recognizing the contributions of others, while self-effacement is failing to take credit for your own work. 

Knowing your specific beliefs means you can know what to advocate for, better withstand rejection, and respect other points of view. “When you know what you believe and you don’t believe too much,” Abrams said, “you create space for growth and progress. You create space for transformation.”

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