You Fail When You Don’t Fail
In 2012 at the age of 41, Sara Blakely was named the world’s youngest, self-made female billionaire by Forbes magazine.
During the course of the interview she recounted how as a fax machine sales person with a tenacious drive and $5,000 in savings, she took an idea she believed in and started a company that now makes $500 million in annual revenue. What’s even more astounding—she has had no outside investors and she owns 100% of her company.
What really got my attention was not the rags-to-riches story. It was toward the end of the interview when Fareed Zakaria asked her what she credits for her success. Her answer made me reach for my remote and rewind several times to take notes.
She said it was her dad and the way he encouraged her to fail. Sara said,
My dad at the dinner table would ask my brother and me what we had failed at that week. And if we did not have a story to tell him he would actually be disappointed. And I can distinctly remember coming home and saying, ‘Dad! Dad! I tried out for this and I was horrible.’ And he’s high-fiving me and saying, ‘Way to go!’ And so what happened was, he reframed my thinking on failure. So failure for me became: ‘not trying’ versus ‘not succeeding.’ And I think more than anything what stifles entrepreneurship and risk-taking, is that all these people are sitting on million-dollar ideas for fear of failure. And so that was a real big gift I got from the way I was raised.
Wow! What a powerful lesson. What a wise parent.
I’ve read several books on how a healthy understanding of failure can be life changing, like John Maxwell’s Failing Forward. Sara really brought it home for me in a personal way though as I listened how this advice came from a father to his young children.
So as a leader (and parent) here are some practical thoughts for you about:
- If you have children, you have an amazing opportunity to impact their lives. I believe that you do that by growing yourself. I don’t know much about Sara’s dad, but he must be a person of wisdom. If he had not discovered this healthy understanding of failure, and most likely practiced it, he would not have been able to teach it to his daughter. Dear parent, the best way to help your child is to grow yourself. How are you doing that?
- Good failure is when you try and fail. Failure due to laziness and lack of effort is bad failure. Getting an “F” on your exam because you stayed up late watching TV the last few nights instead of studying is bad failure. Getting an “F” in organic chemistry while giving it your best efforts is good failure. So Try, Try, Try. I love the recent song by Pink. That is exactly what Sarah’s dad taught her. Not trying is failure. Not succeeding is not necessarily failure.
- As part of my daily “growth time” I allocate time to just ask myself some key questions. One of them is, “What did I try and fail at today? And what can I learn from it?” After listening to this interview, I redoubled my efforts to ask this question more often.
- Failure when you try your best is good. It says you are pushing the envelope. But make sure you stop and learn something from it. If you keep repeating the SAME failure then you are not stopping to evaluate the experience.
It is said that failure is life’s way of nudging you onto another path.
So come on my friend! Release your fears today…
Let’s dare to fail!