Making Failure Normative

My wife recently heard Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, talking about failure and how her father had a daily exercise of asking her how she failed that day.

This was fascinating to me and so I looked an instance of her talking about this explicitly and found it via Forbes:

Sara’s beloved father followed Wayne Dyer’s guidance in teaching his children the power of failing big.  Each day, her father would ask – “So, what did you fail at today.” And if there were no failures, Dad would be disappointed.

Focusing on failing big allowed Sara to understand that failure is not an outcome, but involves a lack of trying — not stretching yourself far enough out of your comfort zone and attempting to be more than you were the day before.   Failing big was a good thing.

My wife and I thought that this activity was exceedingly useful and have started doing it with both of our 9 and 5 year old.

Sara Blakely
Sara Blakely

The idea of making failure normative and part of life is an important lesson to learn, something that even adults still struggle to fully understand and appreciate.

But we’ve added to the model by adding a very small competitive play to it and making it a family sport, sotospeak: We’re all going to share with each other the things that we struggled to accomplish and/or the things that we failed to complete or try that day.

The goal isn’t failure, though, it’s growth. What we’re communicating to the girls is that the only way we can grow as people is through attempting new and difficult and challenging things.

Consequently, as parents, we’re going to reframe a lot of our daily conversations around this philosophy in our actions and words so that we can begin thinking and living out, as a family, this ideal.

Fortunately, we have a good foundation upon which to work from since both the kids have seen and heard of their father trying, and failing, at many, many things.

I do not see any downside to our new direction.


Also published on Medium.