The billionaire founder of Spanx, Sara Blakely, was praised by her father in a very unusual way while growing up. Each night at the dinner table he would pose the question: so how did you fail today?
If Sara and her brother were not regularly failing and learning from their failures, dad was disappointed. He was certain that the very best way to ensure their success was to teach them to seek out opportunities to try and fail. It obviously worked.
Blakely was named Forbes’ 93rd most powerful woman in the world in 2014. She owns 100% of the shares of her billion-dollar hosiery company Spanx which she created with no debt and no investors.
The success-building practice of failure is proven on a biological level in the book The Talent Code. In this inspiring book by Daniel Coyle he investigates “hotbeds of talent” from around the world. In other words, he uncovers why certain groups and individuals excel far beyond their contemporaries.
Coyle discovered that building talent is essentially building fresh coatings of myelin, which is a “whitish insulating sheath” that wraps nerve fibers throughout the body. Myelin-wrapped nerves cause neurological information to travel more efficiently and clearly – wiring the body for greater skill. And in order to trigger myelin growth, you must regularly fail.
Coyle says, “Struggle is not optional–it’s neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit.”
After several hustle-filled years selling fax machines door-to-door in Florida, Sara Blakely had become a star salesperson at the company where she worked. But she was not satisfied. She wanted to be her own millionaire boss. So one day she made the firm commitment to herself that she would come up with an invention that would make millions of dollars.
Not long after that, she found herself in a very ladylike pickle. She was getting dressed in fitted pants with open-toed-shoes and wanted both the smooth, firming effect of pantyhose and bare feet for her open toes. So she cut the feet off her pantyhose and voila! A billion-dollar idea was born.
I’ll bet we all regularly have billion-dollar ideas. The real question is whether we are going to do anything about them. Blakely set out on a motivated course of failures to learn, grow and break into the completely male-dominated hosiery manufacturing industry.
She wrote her own patent (hiring a lawyer was too expensive), got her product on the shelves of Neiman Marcus and on the derriere of Oprah Winfrey. The woman failed her way to the top in a few short years.
Because I’m a yoga teacher, I am often in the company of people who associate money with negativity and corruption. I think this is a real bummer because the truth is, those who have the wealth wield much more power than those who don’t. Money is not the problem, the problem is who is the keeper and distributor of that money.
Blakely seems to be doing wonderful things with her wealth and power. She’s the founder of the Sara Blakely Foundation with the goal of empowering women on many levels. She recently published a book called The Belly Art Project with 100% of the proceeds going to “maternal health”. In listening to interviews with her, I get the sense that she’s a solid, sane, compassionate person – a great lady to be wielding so much power and influence.
So I hope dear reader, if your heart is in a good place, if you are dialed in to humanity at large and you happen to have a billion-dollar idea, you go for it. Set out on your path of small and large failures… fall, get up, learn, take a step, fall, get up, learn… over and over until you’ve got extraordinary wealth.
Then go out there and support and uplift all the beauty and good in this world. We need more wonderful billionaires.
Photo: Ben Baker Redux