How Failure Shaped Sara Blakely as a Self-Made Billionaire

Becoming successful doesn’t mean you’ll succeed every time. Nothing proves this point better than Sara Blakely’s story, and here’s what we all can learn from it.

Sara started with a desire to become an attorney. She went through all of the steps, moving on from high school to majoring in legal communications in college. Finally, Blakely made it to the LSAT, gathered all the knowledge and courage – and flopped the test.

She felt hard hit by her first major failure but decided to push on. Determined to succeed, she studied hard and went to a prep course until she was ready to face the challenge again. The LSAT date came again, and Sara went for it. She failed again.

After the second defeat at the hands of the merciless test, Blakely tried her hand at working at Disney World, but that wasn’t the career path for her. She returned home and started working in a local business as a door-to-door fax machine salesperson.

During her time selling fax machines, Blakely kept daydreaming about her life goals. One day, she had an idea to modify her pantyhose to better slip into a pair of fitted pants. As strange as that sounds, this was the moment that changed Sara’s life.

Some years after, the seemingly unimportant idea led her to become the founder of Spanx. In 2012, Forbes crowned her with the title of the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.

Sara Blakely’s story teaches us that life experiences and the insight that comes from them can prove more valuable than a degree. Of course, that’s not to say education isn’t important – it just means that life has a way of taking us in a direction for which no formal education can prepare us.

From handling failure to staying true to yourself, here are the vital lessons to understand from Blakely’s success story.

What Are the Lessons You Can Learn from Sara Blakely?

1. What It Means to Redefine Failure

There are plenty of situations where you’ll face failure just like Sara did. When she started Spanx, her knowledge about the industry was next to none, yet she acted on an idea that would later prove revolutionary.

In this situation, many would hold back simply due to fear of failure. However, Sara braved through, refusing to leave her business at the conceptual level. In her own words, true failure would be not even trying to do something.

Blakely owes her winning attitude in great measure to her family. Her father had a ritual during dinner to ask about her failures that day and taught Sara to celebrate them as life lessons. And that’s an excellent point she later took to heart.

Indeed, failure is the best way to learn and not something to be feared. If you can accept that kind of attitude towards it, what was once a source of fear can become your strongest ally.

2. The 3 Questions to Understand Your Purpose

Before she achieved stellar success with Spanx, Blakely spent time figuring out her purpose in life. She devised three essential questions that would help her reach that goal:

  • What brings joy to your life?
  • What are your best skills?
  • How could you serve a higher purpose?

Blakely made a list for each of these questions and worked on finding answers to them every day. She didn’t construct the lists as a business plan, and neither should you. The point of answering the three crucial questions is finding and understanding your purpose, not necessarily creating a product or a brand.

By Sara’s own words, once you figure out your deepest reasons and maintain a connection with them, you’ll have a constant source of motivation to get you through the challenging times. And the point where you’ll find your purpose is where the three lists intersect.

3. Allowing Your Mind to Wander

The time spent thinking about your dreams, plans, and wishes is a precious commodity. It’s the very thing that eventually led Blakely to her success. It can work wonders for you too.

Creativity and introspection are inherent human skills and a basic need if we wish to grow as persons. These traits will also become more valuable in the future, as creativity is our largest advantage over artificial intelligence that’s already taking over many professions.

For those reasons, it’s very important to nurture the creative side of your mind. The best way to do that is to find time when your mind can wander freely.

Blakely used an interesting strategy to achieve this. She determined early on that the best ideas come to her while driving, so she devised a way to spend more time in her car every day. Although her office was about ten minutes away from her home, Sara spent a whole hour in her daily commute.

The same recipe might not apply to you, but it’s a great example of the sort of thinking that will allow you to secure precious alone time.

4. How to Keep Track of Your Ideas

If you’ve ever had an idea that seemed promising and let it slip your mind during the day, you’re probably familiar with the frustrating feeling that comes afterwards. It’s even worse if the fleeting thought was about solving a problem and you didn’t make a note of it.

Since Sara Blakely always had plenty of ideas, she made a habit of recording every one of them. And that’s a crucial lesson you can take from her example.

Writing down or recording every thought that looks important can help you better understand and organise your ideas. You can also keep track of the valuable solutions you came up with on the fly, creating reliable problem-solving methods out of them.

There are many benefits of recording and organising the various ideas that pop up in moments of inspiration. You’ll become more efficient and focused in your brainstorming sessions, as well as save time on devising processes and solution you’ve already thought of before.

5. Don’t Pretend to Be Someone Else

Whatever she did, however much success or failures she experienced in her ventures, Sara Blakely resisted the urge to picture herself in someone else’s shoes. And today, after all the impressive achievements, she remains true to herself.

Even during her time dressed in a squirrel costume at Disney World, or the seven years she sold fax machines, Sara didn’t lose focus on discovering herself. Once she found that connection, she maintained it and never let it go.

Besides the benefits to her wellbeing, this attitude helped Blakely achieve tremendous business success. She didn’t try to follow a business idea disconnected from her wishes. Instead, Sara focused on what she cared about and pursued that goal to the maximum.

Of all the lessons, this might be the most important to remember. Know and respect what you are without conforming to outside pressure and ideas that aren’t your own.

Let Yourself Grow and Success will Follow

We can take many important lessons from Sara Blakely’s example, most of which have to do with how you develop as a person. Today, every woman should strive to define her purpose, discover her ultimate goal, and set out to achieve it with determination.

There’s great power in finding out who you are and who you want to be. When you discover that and start giving form to your ideas, no life circumstances will stand in your way.

If you’d like more help and guidance on your way to success, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me and check out my speaking services. You’ll find more useful advice that will help you grow as an entrepreneur and a leader.