Build Resilience with This Billionaire’s Question

build resilience

Have you heard of Sara Blakely?  She’s the founder of Spanx, an underwear company and has learnt to build resilience.

A client recently told me the story that she had read about Sara Blakely’s upbringing and the question her father would consistently ask her. Sara Blakely’s father would routinely ask her this question:

What had she failed at that week?

She said he seemed disappointed if she didn’t have something to report.  She explains that this reframed her meaning of the word failure to a more positive definition.

I then read more about Sara Blakely’s story and how she got started.

She got the idea for the first pair of Spanx, the top part of panty hose that keep the lines smooth, by cutting off a pair of panty hose and just using the top part.  (Creativity has been named as one of the top three requirements for our children’s generation.  To read more about the future for our kids and Dr. Yong Zhao’s perspective on the fourth industrial revolution, read my post here.)

Sara Blakely then faced a lot of adversity as she proposed her prototype of the first Spanx and got rejected multiple times.  She didn’t give up and she finally found a company who was willing to give her a try.  After many unreturned phone calls to Neiman Marcus, she remained persistent and finally arranged a meeting and got them to agree to try out her line.  Sara then called everyone she knew and had known in the past to buy her Spanx, in return she sent them a cheque in the mail to thank them.

It’s not surprising that Sara Blakely was persistent.  This may partly be temperament (persistence is one of our nine temperament traits and we can fall anywhere on the continuum) but also due to mindset and her ability to have a growth mindset.  It sounds as though Sara’s father helped to foster this kind of mindset and build resilience.

What Can We Do to Build Resilience?

To build resilience we need to give our kids a chance to experience failure.   If we take away all of their stress then they won’t learn how to problem solve.

Nowadays, the rates of anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts/attempts are higher than ever in first year students in post-secondary institutions across North America. Many young adults are fragile not resilient.

We don’t want to throw our children in at the deep end and expect them to swim but we do want them to experience adversity and failure and figure out how to handle it.

We need to be the scaffolding not the helicopter or the snowplow.

Sara Blakely’s story gives us something to think about…

How can we encourage our kids to see failure as a good thing?   versus the perfectionism mentality that negatively impacts so many children

How can we ask our children what didn’t work this week, what did they fail at, and have them realize that this is an important part of life?

Life is a journey of ups and downs and if we’re under the illusion that life should always be happy and stress-free, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to navigate the challenges when they come.  We need to raise our kids to be problem-solvers.  (To receive my free mini video course on Developing R. Q. ~ Resilience in Kids, you can access it here.)

How do you personally feel when you fail at something?  How to you act when you make mistakes?

The subject of failure would be an interesting topic to bring up around the dinner table…


build resilience

PS.  Registration is open for my summer “Brain Science” camps where I teach children ages 7-9yrs. and 10-12 yrs. about anxiety and anxiety management skills.  For more information, you can view the flyer here and online registration is here – please click on the “upcoming groups” tab.



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