Reality TV offers escapism and entertainment from the pressure of the real world, and RuPaul’s Drag Race is no exception. Yet with nine series, a handful of Emmy awards and an ever expanding fanbase, this show offers something extra special.
Drag queens compete and perform weekly challenges to a panel of celebrity judges in the hopes of being crowned ‘America’s next drag superstar.’ Amongst the glamour and backstage bitching, stories of strife and hardship emerge from the contestants who have often faced prejudice and hardship to simply express who they are. Here’s a reality show with heart – and it’s not surprising with RuPaul at the helm. Beyond the sequins and sass, there’s a plethora of advice from an inspirational LGBT icon who’s carved a multifaceted career in showbiz. So grab your glad rags and check out these career tips…
‘If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?’
Here’s the mantra which ends every Drag Race episode, and reminds us what it’s all about. Self-love is a phrase which is bandied about a lot, but what does it actually mean? It’s recognising your own value and right to be happy, and taking action to achieve that. Drag culture features undertones of self-empowerment, and the show’s emphasis on the survival stories of its competitors – such as enduring cancer, homelessness and prison convictions – transfigures the reality show into a narrative about strength.
Career lesson: Learn to clap for yourself. Recognise your talents, and understand your weaknesses. Invest in yourself by pursuing opportunities to develop new skills. Forgive yourself when you make mistakes – because you inevitably will. Ultimately, no one cares as much about, or will benefit from, your career as much as you do.
Don’t fear failure
‘And if I fly, or if I fall. Least I can say I gave it all.’
Competition is fierce on RuPaul’s Drag Race; you only have to glimpse the fervour with which contestants fight elimination during the most epic lip sync battles on TV. We should all be inspired by their bold and fearless attitude, and their graciousness in accepting defeat – even when it’s unexpected. As RuPaul dismisses a drag queen, asking them to ‘sashay away’, it’s always served with compassion and kindness, and the acknowledgement that failure doesn’t define your self worth.
Career lesson: There’s no doubt that rejection is painful, but it’s worth remembering that failure isn’t permanent. It can appear like success happens overnight when we don’t hear the backstory, but this is rarely true. If you switch your mindset to search for the lessons learnt, then every time you fail you’re one step closer to success. And if you never try at all, you fail by default.
Success is personal
‘I think success is something between you and yourself. Only you know where you’ve come from and how far you want to go.’
For many drag queens, success isn’t about reaching the dizzying heights of stardom that RuPaul has scaled. It could be about interacting with loyal fans, finessing a certain style or simply putting one foot in front of another on a floodlit catwalk.
Career lesson: Success means different things to different people, and there’s no point comparing your own journey to someone else’s – it’s a marathon, not a sprint! We all have different life experiences, circumstances and ambitions. Often the small triumphs and moments of difficulty are just as meaningful as when we finally reach a long-term career goal.
Don’t take life too seriously
‘Drag says to people: Don’t take yourself or life too seriously. Have fun; enjoy this gift.’
It’s important to know that we’re only here for a little bit of time – we should make it a good time, and we should make it matter.
Career lesson: Your career matters – but so does your life. Don’t neglect family, friends and doing all the little and big things which bring you joy.
Know when to recharge
‘I got to recharge my battery and understand what it is I wanted to go out there and do in the first place – I guess my battery had gotten weak.’
Through experience, Ru knows the importance of being kind to yourself by looking after your mind and body.
Career lesson: Whether it’s job hunting fatigue or you’re pondering an extended holiday, taking time out can actually boost your productivity, motivation and creative flow. Avoid burnout and allow yourself to take breaks.
Own your uniqueness
‘Find out what it is you have that makes you unique and special, and cultivate that’
The drag queens are judged on their charisma, nerve, talent and – uniqueness… It’s often those who are the most comfortable in their own skin that excel!
Career lesson: Find what motivates you and don’t apologise for being your truest self. Own whatever makes you stand out – everyone has a unique experience, perspective and set of skills to bring.
Nothing lasts forever
‘One of the things that kept me going…was knowing that bad weather always passes over. If you could just wait it out, it will pass.’
It’s likely that we’ll all suffer or struggle at some stage; when speaking to Oprah in 1995, RuPaul talked about experiencing depression in his late twenties as the darkest period of his life. However, he said that he knew if he could only persevere, things would eventually get better.
Career lesson: When things are tough, it can be reassuring to recognise that nothing stays the same forever – just as the seasons change, so will our circumstances. This counts for the good times too. It’s just as important to appreciate and savour things when life is going well whilst remembering that success is often built on perseverance and tenacity.
Remember to laugh
‘Laughing is my number one thing to do on this planet…it’s the most powerful spell you can cast.’
In RuPaul’s 2016 keynote speech at the Life is Beautiful Festival, he spoke about the importance of having an arsenal of tools to arm yourself against a sometimes treacherous life, and how to transform your feelings and thoughts into an energy force field capable of withstanding whatever life should offer you. Growing up as the only boy in his house, his sisters used to tickle him like crazy just to hear him laugh. Laughter is transformative – at any moment you can laugh, and change your mind.
Career lesson: Go forth and giggle. The ability to laugh is an underestimated resource in overcoming problems (and is stupendously good for your health). If you’re able to laugh about a situation, you immediately eliminate its emotional stranglehold over you. Whatever career conundrum you find yourself in – hold on to your sense of humour. It might just be your greatest weapon.