Aug 26 / Simcha

On Spanx and Letting Your Kids Fail

spanxEntrepreneur Sara Blakely transformed $5,000 in savings into a $500 million dollar-a-year company called Spanx, and in so doing revolutionized women’s undergarments in the process. She had never taken a business class in her life, and had never worked in the fashion or retail industries.

In 2012, Forbes named the Spanx founder and inventor the world’s youngest, self-made female billionaire. With Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement, 20,000 pairs of Spanx were sold in less than a day. Spanx can now be found in over 50 countries worldwide; she owns 100 percent of her company, has no outside investors, and has never spent a penny on advertising.

Why am I telling you all this in a psychotherapy blog?

I listened yesterday to an interview with Blakely conducted by Fareed Zakaria (CNN, GPS, 12.25.13) and was touched and inspired by how her father’s educational philosophy had contributed to her success. Unfortunately, the online youtube video does not include that piece, so I will transcribe her words here:

Blakely told Zakaria:  “My dad encouraged us to fail. When I was younger, at the dinner table my father would ask my brother and me what we failed at, and if we didn’t have a story of something that we failed at that day, he would be disappointed. It was this great reverse psychology, because we’d get excited to have a story.

I’m so thankful for that, because now as an adult, I’m not afraid to fail. To me, failure is not about the outcome. Faiilure is about not trying, rather than about not succeeding….  I think fear prevents so many people from pursuing their ideas. Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Parents, this is a lesson to take to heart:  FOCUS YOUR PRAISE ON THE EFFORT, RATHER THAN ON THE OUTCOME.

Praise your children for trying, not for succeeding. Let them know that, no matter the outcome (prize/no prize; good grade/poor grade; first place/last place), failure is about not putting in one’s best effort. And success is about trying one’s best.

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See also:

What If the Secret to Success is Failure?

Encouragement vs Praise

Our Obssession with our Kids’ Happiness

Why Over-Parenting is Harmful