Something I read: “What did you fail at?”

One afternoon, a few weeks ago, I was sitting in my car—early for Hudson’t pick-up—and I heard Meghna Chakrabarti interviewing Sara Blakely on Here & Now. Blakely founded Spanx, the shapewear company, before she was 30 years old. At 45, she’s not the youngest female billionaire in America, according to Forbes.*

Blakely talked about how much rejection she faced when trying to get Spanx into stores and shared stories of cold-calling—during which she was nevertheless nervous all the time. “Courage is a muscle,” she remarked. And her examples of building that muscle were inspiring.

But the thing that has stuck with me all these weeks later was a story she shared about her father and a gift he gave her:

He would ask my brother and me what we had failed at that week.

And I can remember coming home and telling him “I tried out for this and I was horrible.” And he’d say “way to go” and high-five me. And what he was doing was reframing my definition of failure so failure for me and my brother now is simply not trying versus the outcome.

It made me want to talk more about failure with our kids in ways that frame it as a badge of honor.

I can remember taking Hudson ice skating and the (positive) impact it had to tell him that if he didn’t fall he probably wasn’t really trying—that the good skaters were the ones who had fallen a lot. In that case, the connection was very literal, but I imagine there are plenty of other times it would be helpful to encourage risk-taking in this way.

Do you have any dinner-table-advice or questions that have stuck with you? 

*Sidenote: I hesitated to use this as the proof of her success. We’re oddly fascinated by wealth in this country as a metric of somebody’s wisdom and look where that’s gotten us. But it is the proof that her idea was a good business one.

P.S. Other things I read (or heard, as the case may actually be.) Photos from Sun Valley, Idaho.

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