From the arts to entrepreneurship to big business, these notables know a thing or two about celebrating triumphs, making friends with failure, and staying true to yourself—and your ambition—no matter what.

By Jane Porter
Updated January 07, 2016
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Woman looking out of window
Credit: Ezra Bailey/Getty Images
Woman looking out of window
Credit: Ezra Bailey/Getty Images

Notice the Impact You’ve Made.

“It took 10 years before I realized what I had done with [my book] The House on Mango Street. Ten years before I could see that librarians and teachers and young people were reading it and it was transforming their lives. One of the things we have to realize is that despair is part of the process. We shouldn’t give up when we are at the lowest. Here I was, in my later 30s and what they called an overnight success, which was really a 10-year night. (I had handed in the book at age 28.) My idea of success was different from how I see it now. What I wanted then was the approval of my literary peers. Now it comes from girls who say to me, ‘I read this, and it changed my life.’”
—Sandra Cisneros, author of nine books, including The House on Mango Street and a new memoir, A House of My Own. Recipient of a MacArthur fellowship. Based in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Create a Circle of Support and Success.

“One of the biggest things I recommend for women today is to surround yourself in a ‘circle of five.’ Have four other women who are also aspiring to do big things with whom you can share what’s really happening in a trusted and safe environment. There was a point where I had literally lost everything and found myself in my car with my cat and whatever clothes I could fit. I could have gone home to my parents, but I was so humiliated and emotionally wrecked, I didn’t want anybody to know. A friend said, ‘You can come live in my apartment, and when you’re ready, you can start going out again.’ It was really important having that sisterhood.”
—Ingrid Vanderveldt, investor. Founder of the company Empowering a Billion Women by 2020. Member of the United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council. Creator and host of the CNBC series American Made. Based in Austin, Texas.

Take a 360-Degree View of Ambition.

“My mother was widowed at age 38, with four girls to raise. I know the commitment it took her to be able to work enough hours to keep us together. Without financial independence, we really don’t have access to the choices and options that define true success—the freedom to pursue whatever opportunity we wish to. Whether you achieve financial success or not, though, don’t change your character. Don’t shrink yourself. I think we all—men and women—need to define ambition differently, to reframe it so that it doesn’t just apply to career. A lot of women would say, ‘Yes I want my career, but I also want a family or to travel.’ We have to start asking ourselves, ‘What is my life ambition?’ You may find that you’ve been making your ambition one-dimensional when it should be multidimensional.”
—Jane Wurwand, founder of the skin-care line Dermalogica, the International Dermal Institute, and the brand’s nonprofit initiative, Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship, which provides training and support to women around the world. Based in Los Angeles.

Stay Clear About Your Identity and Integrity.

“Over time you realize that to compromise who you are is never worth the position, title, monetary gain, or whatever. It’s just not worth it, because you take your whole self to work. You’re taking your ideals, aspirations, and beliefs. In order to convey that to a company, friends, family, whoever, you have to live it every day. Now that I have a daughter—she’s seven years old—that integrity is so important to me. The audience is here. She’s watching me. Showtime is now.”
—Felita Harris, senior vice president of global commercial development at fashion brand Lela Rose. Former senior vice president of global sales at Donna Karan. Based in New York City.

Keep in Mind That Everyone is Figuring It Out on the Fly.

“It’s been 15 years now, but for the entire first year of the first bakery I opened, I wanted to close it down. It felt like I had made a big mistake. I have a diary entry from the 10th month where I wrote: ‘I’m selling this place. Mom says keep it for at least two more months so I can say I did it for a year and then I’m out.’ But as the 12th month came, there were turning points. I had created more of a team, which relieved some of the pressure. When I was younger, I went for goals I knew for sure I could attain. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that you don’t have to know exactly how to get there. I think when you’re young, you look at people who are successful and think, Wow, they’ve got it made, and I don’t. But the more you go through life, the more you realize that no one really has it made. Everyone is figuring it out as they go.”
—Joanne Chang, pastry chef and owner of Flour Bakery + Cafe, with four locations and a production kitchen. Co-owner of Myers + Chang, a Chinese restaurant she runs with her husband. Based in Boston.