Schadenfreude and the Sisterhood

I recently attended an event at my club, the University Women’s Club in Mayfair in London. It was a roundtable discussion on collaboration between the fashion, architecture and science industries. I had just spent the day coaching at the Sanger Centre, so the topic had great resonance for my work with scientists. As we were discussing, one of the speakers remarked on the challenges she faced in bringing projects to fruition and the lessons these “failures” imparted about risk. She said “Risk means having to bear other people watching you fail.”

That struck a deep chord with me. I have faced many naysayers who have been surprised at my choices: to move to Europe, to leave a well-paid job to set up my own consultancy, to focus my work on a niche group of women – those who work in male dominated fields. Every step of the way, other women, and some men, have questioned my wisdom in making those choices. Each time, when things felt ‘wobbly’, I have felt all too acutely the gaze of the ‘sisterhood’. Taking a risk means opening yourself up to public scrutiny and potential failure – whether it be a move to a new role, starting something on your own, even moving to a new industry. Schadenfreude; the pleasure in watching others struggle and even fail, comes to mind. The key is in remembering that you are mostly being ‘watched’ by people who actually want you to succeed and who may resent you simply for making choices about which they could only dream.

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