Talking About Failure

Talking about failure

Dinner conversations at the Blakely household had an unusual twist. Each night at the table, Sara Blakely’s father would ask her, “What have you failed at today?”

And she would recount her successes and setbacks, learning to move beyond failure. By the time she entered college, Sara Blakely was steeped in failure and experienced at rebounding.

Sara had a sunny outlook and the sort of confidence that comes not from conventional achievements but from facing down failures and then plowing them for the lessons they can yield. In working through her various attempts at activities such as singing and sports—both failures for her—Sara developed an indefatigable persistence. She learned that failure offers lessons she could never get in class.

Through successive failures, Sara discovered her talents, her passions and her deep interests. She learned to welcome small failures as a way to push herself. She became comfortable with failures and didn’t let them pull her down. Sara wouldn’t go on to become a singer or a soccer star. Nor would she become a lawyer (in college, she scored poorly on the Law School Admissions Test). Instead, Sara would become an entrepreneur—and turn out to be the first self-made female billionaire in U.S. history.

Sara Blakely’s patented invention was Spanx. She has built an entrepreneurial empire upon this product, revolutionizing the women’s undergarments industry. Sara saw a problem—women wanting to appear shapelier and smoother in their clothes, losing the visible panty lines—and she attacked how to solve it from a woman’s perspective.

Her father’s question, “What have you failed at today?” cultivated in Sara Blakely a constructive approach to failure and her carry-on entrepreneurial spirit. Sara considers this spirit a real gift: “My dad growing up encouraged me and my brother to fail,” she says. “It’s really allowed me to be much freer in trying things and spreading my wings in life.”

VentureLab activities offer opportunities for students to fail in a safe environment and begin to use failure as a learning tool!

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