Sara Blakely, The billionaire behind Spanx, has one of the most famous and my personal favorite, failed quotes.  This was a question her father would ask her brother and her at the dinner table, “What have you failed at this week?”   

She credits this question and lesson in embracing failure with being one of the greatest secrets of her success. 

Sara Blakely
"Sara Blakely" by is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This leads me to ask, what is the real meaning of failure? And, why does it get such a bad rap?

Everything challenging, by definition, requires that we will pretty much suck at it the first time we try it.

If you’re the type of person who is good at everything you do, I would suggest you’re selling yourself short. 

If you want to grow as a person, physically and mentally, you have to fail, fail often, rinse repeat, and enjoy the process. 

On the bright side, you will never experience the type of exponential growth at anything as you will when you first start learning something new.  Sounds exciting!

With that in mind, I ask my daughter that same question as often as possible. For her, and for myself, this is my list.

Choosing my challenges.

doing the unimportant

I had a task to do that required some technical knowledge about a particular piece of software that is no longer used.

My first instinct was to do it myself. It wasn’t a very meaningful task, and there are others who are more capable. I spent way more time than I should of trying to figure out how to do this thing with this… thing.  

So… was the software the thing I sucked at today? Not even close. The reality is, I have no reason to use this software again, and it didn’t teach me anything useful. My real reason for doing it? In a word, ego.

You could say, the knowledge gained from learning this software could benefit me in some other way.  Maybe.  

In truth it’s more likely this would have been about as useful as me learning how to build a myspace page, a little nostalgic, but an incredible waste of time. 

Learning to do something unimportant, usually only increases our ability to be, exceptionally unimportant.

This should not be used as an excuse not to  try new things for the sake of the challenge and getting out of your comfort zone. This is a reminder that our time is precious. We should choose challenges that are going to bring the most fullfillment in our lives, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. 

It’s my responsibility to always ask if this challenge is valuable.  Will I grow from this? Or, am I stealing my most valuable resource from myself, my time?

Committing to the uncomfortable

It’s very easy for us to get comfortable in our routines. We get up early, work, figure out food, deal with the never-ending challenges life throws at us without our consent, and generally… do life.

Even our “required” daily challenges become comfortable. It’s easy for us to look at those as being enough. We can tell ourselves we’re proud because we put up with all the crap life threw at us that day.

That mentality makes it very easy for us to justify quitting the new routine we promised ourselves we were going to start doing. Or even worse, prevent us from even starting.

I repeatedly tell my daughter that she should try to fail at something every day.  But last night I realized I had not done anything challenging for the last couple of days—at least nothing outside of the usual.

I realized I was failing at failing. That is, without a doubt, the worst failure you can bring upon yourself. The reason? It’s your choice. The words of David Goggins echoed in my head as they do so often.

why did i quit quote

What keeps me going? I’ve quit several things, I know what’s on the back end of quitting. It’s a lifetime of thinking about, why did I do that?  ~David Goggins

Almost time for bed, I scrambled to find something new to try. I stumbled upon a fun yoga pose for couples, the backpack. We (primarily me) definitely failed at this the first couple of times, but after our third try, we were successful.

We fell, we laughed, fell again, and finally triumphed. Maybe not with perfect form, but still. All while having a fantastic time together. The short rest of the night was excellent. It was quite the opposite of failure, all from getting out of our comfort zone.

yoga backpack pose


This is my list of things that I have not succeeded at doing the first time I tried, and the lessons I learned from it. 

The goal of this list is to encourage myself to try new and more difficult things, to hold myself accountable to always push forward, broaden my horizon, learn, and improve.

I encourage everyone to start their own lists and do that same! 

Do you have some favorite failure stories that you have learned valuable lessons from?

Please share in the comments!