Originally published on Forbes
Drag isn’t easy, so seeing each bold performance gives me a newfound appreciation for the performer’s originality, perseverance and imagination. As a CEO, I love gleaning insightful lessons about authenticity and the importance of hard work from each show. Drag queens pour their heart and soul into their work, and every performance can be a lesson if you look close enough. Whether you’re in the process of starting a business, scaling your brand or climbing the corporate ladder, here are five lessons drag queens can teach us about how to succeed professionally.
Know who you are.
Every drag queen has a unique persona and backstory, and they’re not afraid to show it. Rather than shying away from their personal experiences, they often lean into them to get inspiration for their performances. And during each show, they fully embrace their unique selves instead of trying to mimic someone else.
Like drag queens, each one of us comes from different backgrounds, ethnicities and sexual orientations. Rather than ignoring the core of who you are, think about how your individual experiences and perspectives can positively shape and impact your work. Knowing what you bring to the table will make you a better employee, business owner or manager. It will also help you figure out new ways to use your skills as your career goes on.
Know what you want.
In an interview, drag queen Trixie Mattel, who grew up in rural Wisconsin, said, “Because I’m from the country, everything I’d always wanted to do I had no access to — no money, no connections to people." But because she knew what she wanted and was unafraid to pursue it, Trixie was able to achieve her goals.
Before launching a business or contemplating a new career path, you can follow suit by thinking through what you want to achieve in the long run. Never lose sight of your why: Why do you want to start your company or pursue your career goals? Why do you think what you are doing is important and necessary? There’s no one size fits all, so it’s important to know why you are inspired to do the work that you’re doing. Whether you’re a long-time entrepreneur or a recent college graduate, having a clearly defined vision will help you figure out what to do next.
Be fearless in your pursuit.
For years, RuPaul faced an uphill battle with little to no pay. He’s now a legend that has turned drag mainstream and become the queen of all of our worlds. RuPaul succeeded, in large part, because of a willingness to fearlessly pursue what he wanted year after year.
To succeed professionally, it's important to commit for the long haul and be unafraid of going all-in on your dreams. Having distinct goals will empower you to persevere through the hard times and ensure that your work aligns with your vision. You are your brand, so fearlessly embrace who you are and let your values be your North Star.
Find and support your community.
Most Queens didn’t get to their first performance without help. (After all, it takes a village to wear those heels and perfect those moves!)
In the same way, you will need to find people to provide support and encouragement in your professional career. If you’re starting or scaling your own business, remember that being a leader is not a solo endeavor; you’ll need the help of business partners, employees and customers to get your business off the ground. If you’re moving up the corporate ladder, you’ll need the support of mentors and managers to continue growing and gaining new responsibilities. Invest in your community, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance when you need it.
Persevere through the hard times.
Most drag performers face many challenges on their paths to success: Performances don’t go as planned, hard work doesn’t always lead to the desired outcome and doing one’s best isn’t always enough. In those moments, drag queens must decide whether to give up or dust themselves off and try again.
You will undoubtedly face unexpected twists, turns and challenges along the way. In those moments, it’s important to remember that there’s no shortcut to success. (As RuPaul would say, “You better work.”) Starting a business or advancing a career is not an overnight process. Becoming a great leader takes time, energy and dedication — especially on the days when you feel like giving up.
Don’t be afraid to go all-in on your dream and invest the effort needed to bring it to fruition. And if you don’t succeed at first, don’t be afraid to try again and reimagine a new path for yourself. You won’t start off on the big stage, but with hard work and determination, you can get there in the end.