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Sonder 2022  •  16 May 2022  •  Society & Culture

Their Success Is Not Your Failure

Vera Wang was a senior fashion editor at Vogue for 15 years and then a design director for Ralph Lauren. She is now an acclaimed bridal dress designer and at the age of 72, has an impressive collection that is highly sought after by celebrities.

By Maydaywenz Tun
Their Success Is Not Your Failure

Many people see the lives of celebrities as an unattainable dream we will never reach. We recognise this, and most of us are content with our low profile, ‘normal’ lives. 

Sometimes, the thought may cross our minds, “wouldn’t it be nice to live in mansions, attend red carpets, and jet to beautiful cities around the world?” 

But rarely do we ever hold onto that thought, simply because we accept that these are the cards we’re dealt. It seems easier to justify why we’d never reach the level of success these stars have, than to confront our own failures with what they’ve achieved at the same age, since most of us aren’t benefiting from nepotism or have the resources celebrities have. Essentially, we view ourselves as playing in a completely different league. 

Since we’re talking about leagues, would the success of someone within our own league make us feel different? We’re no longer comparing ourselves to these big unreachable names with potentially privileged upbringings; we're looking at people we grew up with, who had relatively similar opportunities and pitfalls as us. As we enter adulthood, the uncontrollable need to not compare ourselves to others can be draining. We hear great news from people we love and want to share their joy and achievements, but we also experience that sinking feeling: when will it be my turn? 

Sometimes an overdue catch up with a friend can spiral into feelings of unworthiness and uselessness as they update you on all the great things in their life, then ask, “so how are things with you?” It’s been almost a year since you’ve last seen them and you can’t seem to remember one piece of exciting news to share. I have often heard people say, “Everyone’s on their own path”, and I admit, at the moment, I think they’re just saying it to make me feel less shitty. But they’re probably right. If I just accepted that people’s achievements don’t take away from mine, I’d probably stop self-loathing. It's not a matter of being told something ... it's a matter of convincing ourselves that it's true.

It’s sort of like magic, but I really did have my own a-ha moment when I read about Vera Wang’s story. 

You’ve probably heard the name. Vera Wang is a successful fashion designer adored for her wedding dresses worn by the likes of Ariana Grande, Victoria Beckham, and Mariah Carey. What inspired me most about Wang’s story was not how successful she was today but all the moments she “failed” that led to her success. 

From an early age, Wang had a love for figure skating and grew up dedicated to the ambition of qualifying for the Olympics. In 1968, that dream ended when she failed to qualify. Heartbroken and lost, she turned her focus to attaining a degree in Art History at Sarah Lawrence College. Upon graduating, she was hired as the youngest fashion editor for Vogue Magazine at the age of 22. Within only a year of working at Vogue, she was promoted to Senior Fashion Editor. For 15 years she occupied the role, working towards the title of editor-in-chief. In 1987, she missed out on the role to none other than THE Anna Wintour. In a 2015 interview with The Cut, she expressed how she blamed herself for not making getting the role: 

“I felt that again, I’d fallen short, I didn’t make the Olympic Team, I didn’t become editor-in-chief at Vogue.” 

At 37, she left Vogue and was three years away from achieving her ‘success moment’. Wang was 40 when she debuted her first line of bridal gowns, and at the age of 72 is still very successful today. 

Her success was years in the making. Years of having to navigate multiple rejections whilst handling the pressure of being successful as a second-generation immigrant. Even at the height of her success, Wang endured a divorce in 2012 after a 23 year-long marriage that saw the birth of her two children. Most of us will also experience a life that is unpredictable, where things don’t go exactly as we had envisioned. 

Vera Wang’s story of hard work, patience, and dedication isn’t unique. Big names like Henry Ford, Morgan Freeman, and Stan Lee have all found success later in life. I share Wang’s story not only to give hope about your “failures” but to show you that everyone is on their own journey and finding success at their own pace. Some of you will land the job you’ve been eyeing fresh out of university, and others will take a bit longer to discover your passions. The point is, it doesn’t matter when your success happens. There’s no correct method or magical age when it happens, but the process of getting there will be a little easier knowing that the success of others won’t take away from your own progress.


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