Sarah Blakely was a young girl living in Clearwater, Florida, when her entrepreneurial spirit began to emerge. Her father recognized her strength, but instead of focusing on her day-to-day successes, he created a weekly ritual of asking what she failed at. If she couldn’t answer him? He was disappointed. When she failed spectacularly? He high-fived her.
While encouraging failure may be an unusual parenting technique, that ritual accustomed her to the ups and downs of what would become an entrepreneurial life. After graduating from Florida State University, she embarked on a journey of rejection. She auditioned to be Goofy at Walt Disney World, but she was too short, so they made her a chipmunk. She kept a day-job selling fax machines and endured daily rejection. She took the LSAT twice—and bombed both times.
One day, while dressing for work, she was desperate to help smooth the appearance of a pair of white pants. Exasperated, she cut the feet out of a pair of control-top pantyhose and put them on. Success! She didn’t know it at the time, but she had just invented what would become the most popular shapewear in history. Spanx is now sold all over the world, and Sarah Blakely, the woman who learned and grew through failure, is a billionaire.
The great kabbalist, Rav Ashlag, teaches that we cannot rise without falling first. We cannot elevate to the highest levels without first going down and then going up. To me, falling is synonymous with failing (the words are nearly identical—just one letter apart!). Because, here’s the thing: failure isn’t bad. I know that goes against every instinct we have to succeed, but in essence, failing is just a part of the process of success. We just need to completely rethink how we perceive failure.
We came into this world to grow and transform into an elevated version of ourselves— in essence, to reveal our potential and purpose. To do this, we must stretch, push past our comfort zones, and seek ways to go beyond our inherent natures. When we are living a life of purpose, going beyond what is comfortable, failure is inevitable. What is important is what we do with our failures. If we learn from them and use them to launch forward more effectively, then how can we see them as bad?
Sarah’s father gave her a gift: He took the idea of failure and flipped it on its head. He normalized it and helped Sarah see it as part of her journey.
Think back on a time that you feel you failed. Maybe you lost your job. Maybe you didn’t handle an argument well. Maybe you didn’t score well on your SAT. I’m willing to bet that you can find a blessing in it. In fact, perhaps a gift came to you out of your perceived failure. Did you find a better career fit? Did you ask forgiveness from your friend, and thus start the relationship anew? Did you study harder for the next exam—and ace it? It is usually in these moments, when life disappoints us, that the greatest blessings are revealed.
When we work to see the blessings, we can cultivate gratitude for our failures, and it helps us not to fear future challenges. Fear does nothing to help us. While it may seem like we are being “responsible” or “careful,” we are actually blocking the blessings that are trying to reach us—stunting our growth in the process. Fear of failure certainly does not help us to succeed.
How often do you make choices based on avoiding failure? Do you abandon your inspirations because you’re afraid they will be rejected? How often do you avoid doing something new because you’re uncomfortable making mistakes and learning?
When you are faced with a failure, a challenging situation, or a difficult encounter with a person, look for what it is bringing you. Explore how it’s inviting you to grow, heal, or expand. Instead of berating yourself, take an inventory of what you learned and what you can do better next time. Instead of taking your rejection personally, understand that it is actually stirring you toward something better. Instead of beating yourself up for making a mistake, offer yourself grace and compassion… and then try again.
Just like Sarah Blakely.