Failure as badge of honour

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The Paradox of Choice

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Sara Blakely, the beloved founder of Spanx, was raised by with failure framed as a badge of honour. In an interview with Rich Roll, her husband Jesse Itzler explained that during her formative years that Blakely’s father would ask what she had failed at each day during dinner. If she failed to make the cheerleading squad or failed to meet her expectations with a grade in school, her father would offer her a high-five. As a result, Blakely’s relationship with failure was ultimately a healthy one.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, it seemingly was the foundation of her business success. Itzler describes his wife as always open to feedback and criticism, no matter how or from whom it is delivered. It could be shouted from the rooftops as she strolls by or sent through Whatsapp by a relative, Blakely apparently always responds with an open mind and is always willing to engage. Even for Spanx, she worked on the initial product for two years before releasing it into the open market. It is easy to imagine that most in her position would not have waited so long for such a critical launch.

It, however, needs to tow a fine-line: failure without effort is not the same as failure with effort. With most things, this is easier said than done. Conventional wisdom advises that we should be open to trying new things i.e. where we are likely to find failure. But given that our time is locked down to work, school or other responsibilities, the opportunity to explore and test our relationships with failure is limited. We have scarce time to put in the required effort into new endeavours.

What then can we do to re-program our embedded beliefs about failure? We can start by showing up everyday.

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