9+1 lessons for life and work I’ve learned from RuPaul’s Drag Race

I’ve watched 5 seasons – that is 70 episodes –  of RuPaul’s Drag Race basically back to back. AND I can’t wait to put my little hands on season 7. (Not available on Netflix for some reason, how sad.)

It is probably the best TV shows of all times to watch in times you need a healthy butt kick and tons of inspiration. First of all, of course, watching these incredibly talented entertainers apply all their creativity and deliver a sequin-studded, extravagantly hilarious show every episode makes your brain happy. But even more importantly, it teaches endless lessons about how to handle failure and let it fuel your growth.

Wrestling with the realisation that I need to find a new job and all that this implies, it has been an immense help to me and maybe you will find it helpful too. So here are some of the things I’ve learned from these fabulous queens and RuPaul’s advice.

fail gracefully

There is no such thing as never failing. The question is what do you get out of it? Are you able to take feedback, lick your wounds for the shortest possible time and apply what you’ve learned in the next round? If so even being in the bottom two won’t stop you from rising to the top.

Sometimes all else fails, and you are out. But it’s okay, if you gave your all and tried with all your might. On to the next adventure!

always be growing

That being said, try to not make the same mistakes.  You can’t fail gracefully blaming everyone and everything or refusing to put in the extra work to acquire new skills. Crying is okay, just don’t get stuck in feeling sorry for yourself instead of applying the learnings.

always be selling

There is hope even in the last moments and an intelligent banter to critique can turn the tide completely. (So as lip-syncing for your life!) So do not give up until the very end, stay sharp, stay focused. Even how you leave the situation after all matters, builds your personal brand and paves the road for the next career move.

Of course selling is important all through the game. We need to learn how to shine light at the things we are really good at as well as getting teams and colleagues on our sides and buying our ideas. The best idea is not better then trash if you are unable to inspire people to buy and believe them so you can make it a reality. (So I’ve learned that on my own skin recently.)

Now don’t be shy,

be true to yourself

Even the most beautiful and smartest queens get this criticism often on the show: we don’t see your personality, we don’t connect to your true self. You have to be able to show vulnerability and open up, in personal relationships and I believe to certain extent in professional context as well.

When I don’t have my whole heart in something that project has very low chances of breaking through, no matter how hard I try. But passion and confidence shines through and it also help you realise if a situation is not really for you. No one needs to fit into every work environment or social group, you are allowed find what suits you best as well.

know your strengths

It’s okay to not excel at everything and it pays off to know where your strengths lie. But knowing what your extra special talents are will allow you to have more control over your life. First of all, you will be able to make real choices and shape your work, targeting and finding companies interested in exactly what you have to offer. Secondly, the biggest part of every skill is willingness and practice. If you understand the roots of your talent, your motivations and the thought processes, you will be able to apply them to new challenges.

And if all else fails, you are allowed to delegate where you know you lack expertise or ask for specific help.

don’t be afraid to try new things

That being said, don’t be a one-trick pony! Often when we are good at something, it is very difficult to get out of that box and try something new, scary and potentially hard. But the thing is, none of the queens who were falling back on the same crutches (be it body, comedy, shock value or beauty) made it past top six.

I struggle with this every time something new comes at me. Will I make a good enough job of it? Will I stumble and let the people involved down? The only way I overcome it is to be honest just getting excited about things and make big decisions – like jumping countries to live with someone after 3 dates – without thinking too much and following the siren song of adventures ahead. Rushed decisions and following your heart can be useful. They create circumstances where you have no choice but do that scary thing – call that potential client and get that sales, sing even if you have no voice – or go home.

The only way to be the best however is to be well rounded and learn how to apply your spirit and attitude to these new and unknown things. It is scary to anticipate potentially fucking up so everyone has my utmost respect who is not too afraid to try. I think ultimately life is more entertaining when you are not stuck. I’m grateful for every new leap I took, every new city and challenging opportunity that came my way. It didn’t always work out but I’m immensely richer by them.

success is simple: determination and brains

I’m in awe every season watching these people create incredible pieces of fashion and performances to laugh out loud at in extremely short amounts of time. And I’d throw in even more superlatives if I could. And ultimately it is always the smartest, most creative queen who wins the season. The one who can interpret each and every challenge to show off her uniqueness and personality.

It takes perseverance and determination to shine under such high pressure and turn out three outfits in a day while choreographing an opening dance piece too. It takes time to get to know your strength and internalise good strategies for overcoming unfamiliar challenges. Allow yourself the time to succeed and to the task at hand, give all you have.

water off the duck’s back

Seaason 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon‘s mantra is a great one for daily use. And she has a great explanation of the phrase, so I’ll let her speak, from and interview with Village Voice:

A friend of mine was dropping me off at the airport when I was going to film Drag Race. Of course I couldn’t tell her exactly what I was doing, but I told her I was really nervous and that I was going to go up for a big role. I think I told her I was auditioning for something but that it was really competitive. She said “water off a duck’s back,” but it was my drag friend Robbie Turner, one of my sisters in Seattle, that would say “water off a duck’s back” meaning other people’s negativity doesn’t affect you.

It was already a mentality I had after art school, and “water off a duck’s back” is an easier way of saying that it’s not about you as a human being. It’s not a personal attack on you, but it’s a critique of your work. To be an effective artist, you have to be able to hear critiques and take the notes there but let go of the negativity or any personal attack feelings that you feel were there in the way a person was critiquing you. You gotta let that go.[…]

don’t take yourself too seriously

All this hard work…but what does it really matter if you don’t have fun while you are doing it? It transforms the whole experience magically when you can tell the performer is completely in her element and has at least as much fun as you do watching her act.

And being able to laugh at yourself makes you more relatable. That makes a real person’s story, not flawless sashaying from success to success.  It is your real personality that shines through and makes you relatable and reaching goals ultimately easier.

Oh, and you know:

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