Failure is Just Market Research

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What did you fail at today?

Spanx founder, Sara Blakely was asked this question by her father at the dinner table growing and she attributes this practice as a breeding ground for her success.  Before starting her global empire, she endured almost a decade of people saying no to her as a sales rep for Xerox machines. With the tools she learned from her father at a young age, she knew that with every no, she was that much closer to a HELL YES. 

I think there comes a moment in everyone’s life when you go “Aha!” all the failure was worth it. yup, I learned a whole lot and I get it now.” 

As children, we scrape our knees, get really dirty, and bounce it off really quick. We do it naturally without thinking. 

Then we get into an education system, a job system what have you-  that rates success in a hierarchy, on test scores, on acceptance to colleges. On performance records. A risk is discouraged. Our responsibilities begin by paying for school, getting a job, etc. Uh oh, we start to lose the steam of resilience in our teenage years because no one ever told us again and again that failing was ok. No one told us it was ok to be a child, fall down and get up again. 

In first grade, I distinctly remember sitting down with my parents on the couch when they told me I was being pulled out of first grade because I couldn’t keep up with the other kids. 

I was being held back because of auditory processing, sensory issues and inability to sit still. Outside of my school life, it presented itself in struggling to keep my room clean, forgetting things all of the time and feeling shameful for not figuring it out of their way just to name a few. It would take me until my mid-twenties until I learned how to use those “disadvantages” as superpowers. 

I loved school. I always have. Learning is my jam and always will be, so why was I being told I wasn’t good enough? Why was I being put in a lower class in my mind? This ideal was reinforced throughout high school, middle school and no matter how hard I tried in school, A’s never came to me. Heck, B’s were hard as hell to make no matter how hard I tried. 

That deep frustration from grade school, not ever feeling like I could perform like my classmates resorted me to a means of cheating the system. I remember crying to myself in the shower on numerous occasions in my late teens and early twenties asking myself “ Why can’t life just be easier for me?”

It boiled down until a particularly low moment in my life when at 17 and in the midst of tests and college applications, hard work staying up until 1 am to keep up with my classmates in academics  and still barely making good grades I decided to plagiarize an article for my school newspaper in a weak moment of late-night exhaustion.

I still get flutters in my heart thinking about one of the only times I ever saw my mom actually disappointed in me because she said: “I’d rather you fail a class than cheat.” 

This low moment gave me an opportunity to solidify the importance of how you do things and not about the outcome.

It would be keeping in flow that everything in my life got easier from that moment on but failure popped up in my academic and professional life a whole lot more over the years. But you know what that low point taught me? A commitment to trying. Each new failure gave me insight into how to problem solve like a hoss, think creatively on my feet, be empathetic to all people and ultimately give me the most important asset in my life toolbox- resilience. 

Resilience is what allowed Sara Blakely and many like her to achieve their goals in life. As I’ve seen a common thread in many of the literature and research I’ve done over the years in psychology and business, it’s usually not the idea that makes someone succeed, it’s the ability to always look at failure as an opportunity for growth, success, and perspective. 

We don't give kids enough credit for how wildly intelligent and sensitive they are. We should be encouraging risk-taking and imploring about failure in their lives. The earlier we expose kids to the importance of making mistakes, the more they can feel supported in all of the challenges that arise amidst life.

Failure breeds innovation, creativity and perhaps the greatest human gift of all- it teaches us that dusting off our knees is a crucial part of our life journey. And hey at the end of the day, the law of probability says that the more you fail, there likely you are to succeed. 

What failure are you grateful for today?

Stay wild,