‘I would wake up in the morning and drive around cold calling from eight until five. Most doors were slammed in my face. I had a few police escorts out of buildings. It wasn’t long before I grew immune to the word “no”.’ – Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx
It’s easy to look at successful entrepreneurs and imagine that they had an easy route to the top, that somehow all their fame and wealth just fell into their lap.
If you’re imagining that achieving similar accomplishments is out of your reach then you’re stuck in workerbot thinking. Many people who are now regarded as giants in their field had to climb the ladder just like anyone else; they too experienced disappointment, setbacks and often crushing self-doubt.
However, if you can find a way to keep going you can get your idea off the ground… and see it become a huge hit!
Few entrepreneurs embody this tenacious attitude more than Sara Blakely. Sara is the founder and inventor of Spanx – an innovative body shaping company that focuses on briefs and leggings.
Spanx made Sara the youngest female billionaire at the age of 41. She has been featured in Time magazine’s 2012 list of the 100 most influential people in the world and in 2014 was listed as the 93rd most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. But in order to reach the summit of her industry, Sara had to overcome plenty of obstacles and deal with lots of rejection along the way.
As a young girl, Sara never dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur. Her lifelong ambition was to be an attorney like her father. She regularly debated at school and went on to major in legal communications at college. However, when it came to taking her Law School Admission Test, she failed… twice. Sara’s first major setback in life saw her unable to pursue her dream job.
Devastated, she decided to make a sideways move and apply for the role of Goofy at Disney World. However, she was too short and had to take the role of a chipmunk instead. She quickly grew tired of the job and after just three months returned home to live with her mum.
At a loose end, Sara began working as a door-to-door salesperson selling fax machines. She wasn’t passionate about the position, but it was where she became utterly immune to rejection. Working long hours, searching down all her own leads, and having her business cards ripped up in front of her, Sara developed a hard-shell. As she says, ‘it was great life training.’
Having worked selling fax machines for seven years, Sara finally had her eureka moment. Wanting to look better in her fitted white trousers, she cut the feet from her pantyhose and replaced them for her underwear: ‘The moment I saw how good my butt looked, I was like “Thank you, God, this is my opportunity.”’
Sara invested her life-savings of $5,000 into the project and, after a series of prototypes tested on friends and family, she launched the brand from her apartment, calling it Spanx because the word was funny: ‘It made people laugh. No one ever forgot it.’ Spanx quickly went from strength to strength, and before long was being sold in Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Saks, and Bergdorf Goodman.
According to Sara, the rejections and defeats she experienced in life were ways of letting her know she was off course. If she’d have passed her law test, got the role of Goofy or been faced with less obstacles as a salesperson, she may never have created Spanx, the product for which her own ‘butt was her inspiration.’
The point here is that no matter how hard things seem, it’s important to remember that a life-changing opportunity could always be just round the corner. When launching your venture, you’re going to come up against plenty of adversity and challenges, but remember that, if you persevere, these struggles will make you and your project stronger. Many of our greatest strengths are developed as a result of overcoming obstacles, and this could be one of the most worthwhile challenges of your life – who knows where it might lead!
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