Why Learning From Failure Is the Key to Success

Without any experience in retail and very little cash, Sara Blakely founded Spanx when she was 29 years old. How did she do it? Was it her parents’ kind words and doting support? Not exactly. As highlighted in an article Blakely’s parents were not into coddling:

Some parents are content asking their children, “Did you have a good day?” or “What did you learn at school?” Not the Blakely household. The question Sara and her brother had to answer night after night was this: “What did you fail at today?” When there was no failure to report, Blakely’s father would express disappointment.

An “if you’re not failing, you’re not growing” approach may seem harsh by today’s standards. It’s essentially the opposite of how parents and educators think about learning:

From an early age, children are taught that success means having the right answers, and that struggling is a bad sign, the sort of thing you do when you’re not quite “getting it” or the work is too hard. Throughout much of their education, students are encouraged to finish assignments quickly. Those who don’t are sent off to tutors. After 12 years of indoctrination, it’s no wonder that so many of us view failure the way we do: as something to avoid at all cost. In reality, it’s only by stretching ourselves that we develop new skills.

As Blakely reminds us, frustration is part of the learning process. Failure, (dare I say the unsayable “f-word”?”) is something to be learned from rather than avoided. Without struggle and failure, we end up with “perfect” children who are terrified of making mistakes. They are fragile teacups—ideal for display but easily broken.

I recently heard about about a new and rather unusual form of therapy designed to help conquer fear of rejection and failure called Rejection Therapy. The idea is to make a game out of rejection by creating situations where you get rejected each day.

Here are a few examples:

  • Request a lower interest rate from a credit card provider
  • Sit beside a stranger and strike up a conversation
  • Ask for a discount before purchasing something

You get the picture. By forcing yourself to do the thing you fear, you de-fang it. The focus is on process not outcome.

Rejection Therapy may have a place at the dinner table. In addition to asking your kids what went well in the day, consider channeling the Blakelys. If the question, “What did you fail at?” seems a little harsh, consider asking “What was hard or challenging for you today?”

It may save years of (Rejection) Therapy in the future.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman