The first time I read Samuel Beckett’s quote “Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better” I did not fully understand it or grasp the importance of those words. As a young social worker, a client painted this quote for me. It took years (and mistakes, setbacks, and disappointments) for the meaning of this sentiment to fully sink in. I was reminded of this quote again this week, upon hearing that Hillary Clinton would not be our first female President. Despite all of our hope—and arguably our need—to see ourselves reflected in the highest realms of leadership, we were not successful in electing a woman, yet again.
Women have tried for over a century to become President. Beginning in 1872, 34-year old Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to undertake this impossible task—truly impossible at the time, as it would take women another 48 years to gain the right to vote through the 19th amendment. Belva Ann Lockwood was the first female attorney to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court. She ran for President in both 1884 and 1888 as the National Equal Rights Party candidate. Her running mate, Marietta Snow, was the first female Vice Presidential candidate.
In 1968, Shirley Chisolm was the first black woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress. In 1972, she broke more barriers as the first black female candidate to run for the Democratic nomination for President and the first major-party black candidate for President. In 1984 Geraldine Ferraro was the Democratic nominee for Vice President and in 2008, Sarah Palin followed in her footsteps as John McCain’s running mate.
All of these women (and more) laid the groundwork for Hillary Clinton to run for President in 2008 and again in 2016. Secretary Clinton ran on a “Stronger Together” platform in which she vowed to protect and promote the welfare of women, children, people of color, and communities that have historically been disenfranchised and forgotten.
Secretary Clinton was arguably the most qualified and experienced person (not woman, but person) to ever run for U.S. President. She spent 30 years in public service preparing for the role. After graduating from Yale law school, Secretary Clinton worked for the Children’s Defense Fund, served as First Lady of Arkansas as well as the United States, was elected U.S. Senator from New York, and served as Secretary of State under President Obama. Her resume is well known, as are her accomplishments and intelligence. She understands both federal and state government, the executive and legislative branches, the laws of our land, and the art of diplomacy. She has shown extreme restraint in the face of incredible odds and has rarely shown a glimmer of emotion, lest she be labeled unstable or hysterical. She has been poised, dignified, and patient regardless of the misogynistic and hateful rhetoric and threats that have been hurled at her throughout her adult life.
However, Secretary Clinton’s likability quotient seemed to overshadow her lifetime of public service and commitment to others. For 30 years, her face, hair, clothes, makeup, emotions, health, predisposition, and motives have been analyzed ad nauseum. Her husband has overshadowed her for decades. Scandals dogged her, whether they were legitimate or not. She has survived traumas, public humiliations, degradation, and threats that would have the vast majority of us cowering in a corner, afraid to leave our homes.
Yet, Secretary Clinton has always tried again. She may have failed but she worked to fail better and although she was not successful at this apex of her career, she has taught every woman (whether they support her or not) an important lesson. In what may be her most important speech, she stated the following:
“And to all women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion. Now I know we have still not shattered the highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will and hopefully sooner than we might think right now. And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
Secretary Clinton tried again and again and again because she felt that she owed it to women like Shirley Chisolm who came before and to all of us who come after. No matter our goals, and whether we are ultimately successful in our pursuits, each time a woman or a girl tries to do more and be more than she’s been told she’s capable of, she chips away at a system that was not built for us—a system that Secretary Clinton took a sledge hammer to and succeeded in showing women around the world that they are indeed capable and valuable and worthy. When I go to work each day I know that no matter what happens—no matter who likes me, approves of me, values me—I won’t quit in my pursuit to advance my own goals and the welfare of the people I serve. I owe it to these women and to myself. So I will try and fail and one day, together, we will succeed.