Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Advice On Failure, Power & Making A Difference


New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has been in the news lately, and it’s not just because she has a new book out ‘Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the The World’, but it is closely tied in with that.

The memoir from the former lawyer is not only a spotlight on her political career, but also a call-to-action for young girls that now is the time to get into politics because America needs you. Upon release of the book, the media was shocked that she revealed details of blatant sexism in the political arena, although she was classy enough not to name names.

Detailing her experience with sexism was important, she says, because she hopes it will force women to “speak up, gather strength” and “support one another” more and more. “If we do, women will sit at every table of power making decisions,” she writes.

Kirsten Gillibrand was chosen to replace Hillary Clinton’s seat of New York Senator, after she was chosen by President Obama to be the Secretary of State upon his election. After Senator Gillibrand was chosen and sworn in on January 26, 2009, at 42 years old she officially entered the chamber as the youngest senator in the 111th sitting US Congress. Talk about a pioneer woman!

She has been most notorious for her outspoken support in repealing the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ law in the US Military, and has been a strong advocate for gay rights and legislation against sexual assault in the military. It has given her a reputation for being a woman you don’t mess with, and a women you certainly should never take for granted despite her blonde hair, blue eyes and gentle voice.


In an interview with Forbes Women, the Senator gives some great advice about having a thick skin, recovering from failures and who her personal role models are.

“At the beginning of the book I say if I had a daughter there would be certain things I would tell her “it’s good to be smart, really smart” and that although people might judge them on what they look like they should spend far more time on what they do and what they say.” For the record, Kirsten has two boys, but her advice is nothing short of inspiring.

“I think our women and girls have so much to offer. We have so much life experience, so many things that if we put our mind to we can make a difference. Every woman is going to have an opinion about something that she cares deeply about, and that’s why it’s a call to action to them to say your voice and your opinion matters.”

Talking on the topic of failure, she believes it can be instructive and that it is ok to lose because through that battle you learn so much.

“It’s not about necessarily winning, it’s about learning from your opponent, sticking with it, not giving up.” In her book she uses the example of how she fought for legislation against sexual assault in the military and how an issue like this compelled her to action. And despite the fact that they weren’t successful in getting the amount of votes they needed in the senate to pass a bill, she and her colleagues successfully started a movement and created greater awareness about this topic.

As a result, men and women in the military have a voice, and she says the Department of Defense is “on notice” because they know she is not going to give up the fight for justice.

“Just because we fail one time doesn’t mean we aren’t ever going to be successful ultimately.”

Speaking of failure, in an interview with Fast Company, she talks about the current situation with how the NFL is dealing with a few high-profile domestic violence cases and how they have failed women.

“We’re debating right now how the NFL is treating women and the fact that they mishandled such a crisis–all facts were known and still the athlete is given a slap on the wrist. It’s an example of an institution that closes its ranks around the favored. What it says is that we don’t value women.”

“In all major sports, many young kids, boys and girls, look up to these players as their role models, and there must be a zero-tolerance policy. If we don’t have a zero-tolerance policy or accountability, we’re not doing our jobs. We as citizens need to demand greater transparency,” she says, which is why she is a huge advocate for using your voice to speak up for an issue you care about, and setting good examples for those around you.

Moira Forbes asks her what is the best piece of advice she has ever been given, and Kirsten says it comes from both her mother and grandmothers.

“You should never give up. There’s nothing you can’t do as long as you put your mind to it and work your hardest and keep trying.”

It’s very interesting that she notes most of the things she fights for are considered a “lost cause” by many, but in her eyes they are the ones that matter the most. If that’s not a sentiment that makes you admire her, we’re not sure what is!


Kirsten’s grandmother was especially inspirational for her own career as she was the secretary for her state legislature and mobilized other women in her constituency to support one another and amplify each other’s voices in order to ensure the issue they cared about were being represented. It’s something that was probably harder to do in her grandmother’s generation, but something we have the freedom of doing today. Yet we often hold back, which is sad.

Her mom is also a bit of a trailblazer herself. She was one of only 3 women in her law school class, and she is also a second degree black-belt.

In a 2010 interview with Vogue magazine, she also spoke about her admiration for her grandmother and how it impacted her career in politics.

“I was never afraid of politics. I was never afraid of the roughness of it. I was never afraid of using it as a vehicle for social change or for making a difference. I watched her fight for things she believed in. And it was a fight. But she just loved it. She had a belief that she could make a difference and that what she was doing mattered. Most people look at politics as corrupt, as a waste of time, as insincere. I saw a very different side of it.”

We often look at politicians as the very people who wield a lot of power, but it is not always directed in the right manner. Kirsten says the way she defines power is the ability to influence outcomes, whether that be overtly or behind the scenes.

“It’s important to know you have a role to play regardless of where you hold it,” she says while using the example of her involvement in the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ repeal campaign. Kirsten was told by the White House they wanted someone else more senior to lead the fight, even though she was capable. But instead of letting it get to her, she realized she could be just as powerful as an advocate even though she was not in charge.

“For some young woman reading [my] book and saying ‘I’m not in charge of anything’, it doesn’t matter. You can change outcomes by showing people you care.”

In Fast Company she cites the example of Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz who was raped and has been carrying a mattress around on campus to symbolize that justice has not been afforded to her. Kirsten believes young women today are speaking up in ways we have never seen before and it is powerful.

“Women like her, they’ve started a movement. These young women, in their 20s, are so persuasive, so passionate, that there’s now a piece of legislation I’ve drafted with my colleagues to flip the incentives on these college campuses so that they can get it right. And my book is really about talking to all women about their stories, their priorities. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Democrat or Republican, independent or uninvolved. They have a viewpoint to share, and it’s not being heard. The women that do stand up can truly make a difference.”

We’re excited to have amazing female representatives in US politics speaking louder than ever before and mobilizing a generation of women to make a difference in this country. It is rumored that the 2016 federal election and the November Senate election could see the greatest amount of women we have ever seen in politics at a national level. We’re not just keeping our fingers crossed, we’re urging you all to go out and vote!

In the meantime check out the full interview below:




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