Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pep Talk: "Relish Failing"

“Every night when we’d sit down at the dinner table Dad would ask, ‘Where did you fail this week?’” offered the successful entrepreneur. “It inspired us to always try new things because we didn’t fear failure.”

Wow. I wanna meet Sara Blakely’s father, a trial lawyer by profession. I like the way that dude thinks. He taught his kids that it’s far more important to focus on trying than failing. We don’t know until we try, right? Who knows, we just might succeed!

All this was flying through my aging cranium while grinding away at Kinetics Fitness Studio a while back. The founder of Spanx and the youngest self-made female billionaire EVER was knocking it out of the park during a cable network business show. The Florida State grad was sharing the stage with Warren Buffett. They were talking about many things including the Giving Pledge program. Buffett and Bill Gates founded the advocacy agency in 2010 to encourage the world’s billionaires to donate half their fortunes to charitable causes. Good for them.

Anyway, while I was sweating away, the woman who wanted to be a lawyer but couldn’t nail the LSAT exam was telling the story of her great success. It’s grounded in the courage to try. To be focused on putting fear aside and allowing wonderment to win. It’s what her father challenged her to do daily around the family dinner table in Clearwater, Florida.

After earning a communications degree and realizing a law career was not in the cards, Blakely went to work at Disney World. The dynamo dreamed of portraying Goofy. “They said I was too short. I ended up being Minnie Mouse.”

The Delta Delta Delta sorority sister - had to include this fact considering your scribe, while at Mizzou, had the fun-loving Tri Delts living next door – was also flirting with standup comedy. Guts to try with no fear of failure. Admirable.

Then, the real world. “I was selling fax machines door-to-door when the idea hit me,” the married mother of a little boy shared. “I had $5,000 dollars to my name and invested it all in the business.”

I couldn’t sell one fax machine, but Blakely sure could. She was the company’s national sales manager by the age of 25. Persuasive would be a good word to describe the 2012 member of TIME Magazine’s most influential people in the world. But she had a problem: Florida’s humidity and panty hose were not a good match. I’m getting way over my skis here, but according to Wikipedia, Blakely hated wearing seamed-foot panty hose with open-toed shoes. Amen to that. But the energetic soul loved that the control-top eliminated panty lines and held the body firmer.

A few attempts at cutting off the bottom of panty hose proved frustrating. The remaining hose kept running up her legs. There had to be a better way. Again, we’re talking about a woman who does not fear failure.

Eventually coming up with a solution, Blakely wrote her own patent from a textbook and incorporated the company under the name Spanx. The rest is history. The Atlanta-based company now also sells undergarments for men. Who knew?

My workout and the interview ended simultaneously. I stepped from the elliptical machine with a sense of gratitude for the other person in the gym’s cardio area. The man peddling furiously on a stationary bike nearby had been watching the channel when I walked in. Had the room been empty, I probably would have turned the television to ESPN and missed the interview. Timing is everything, right?

A short while later, while departing the gym and wandering into the crisp early-morning Centennial State air, I kept drifting back to Blakely’s father. This man encouraged his kids to throw caution to the wind and go for it. If you fail, who cares? It’s far more important to focus on trying than worry about failure.

What about us? Are we encouraging those we influence - home, work, school or elsewhere - to fear failure, or embrace trying? Are we talking ourselves into dwelling in that yucky former spot or the invigorating latter?

If these are challenging times it might help to remember that question always offered at the Blakely family dinner table. Let’s relish failing, knowing that at least we tried.

It sure worked for a Sara. It might work for us, too.

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