Let Them Appreciate Failure

Use failure as a way to discover strengths

In this series of blog posts, I’m providing tips on raising entrepreneurial girls. Such tips include letting girls develop their curiosity and also to get messy (creativity is messy, after all). Here, I look at another important tip for raising an entrepreneurial girl: letting her appreciate and learn from failure.

It starts at the home. For example, when Sara Blakely was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, dinner conversations at her house had an unusual twist. Each night, Sara’s father would ask her, “What have you failed at today?”

He was teaching Sara the value of failure as a tool for discovery. He showed that failure can be a way of figuring out new skills that can make you more competent, more insightful, and more powerful tomorrow than you are today.

By the time she entered college, Sara Blakely was steeped in the positive notions of failure and had become experienced at rebounding from setbacks. She had a sunny outlook and the sort of confidence that came not from straightforward achievements, but from facing down failures and unearthing the lessons they could yield. In fact, after she scored poorly on the Law School Admissions Test, which ruled out the law career she’d dreamed of, Sara decided instead to become an entrepreneur. She ended up as the first self-made female billionaire in U.S. history.

Sara’s saga, like those of many entrepreneurs, began with identifying a need and addressing a problem—the visible panty lines that spoil the smooth, shapely lines most women want to achieve. Sara went about figuring out how to create an article of clothing that could give women what they wanted.

It wasn’t easy. It took a year for her to come up with a satisfactory prototype for a new kind of line-smoothing undergarment.

And when Sara tried to interest the established, male-dominated undergarment manufacturers based in North Carolina in her new product, she struck out everywhere—until one mill operator got back in touch with her because his daughters liked Sara’s idea.

Since Sara was unable to afford a patent attorney, she wrote the first patent application herself. She even improved one of her demonstrations, and invited a Neiman Marcus representative into a restroom to show how her product worked. Sara ended up making the sale.

Today, Sara’s invention is the cornerstone product of one of the world’s fastest-growing apparel brands—Spanx. All because she learned to persevere and to profit from failure. She learned not to give up, or to give in, but to keep going until she succeeded.

In my next post about tips for raising entrepreneurial girls, I look at how to instill in girls a continuing sense of idealism. In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you’ve encouraged the girls in your life to embrace and learn from failure. What were the results? Thank you for sharing.

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