The MuchSmarter Blog

The Billionaire Who Played Badly At First

Steve Schecter
November 11, 2015

When they look at the score on the student’s first practice test, the student and parent often ask anxiously: “Is this OK? Are we going to be able to do well?”

The student worries that a weak initial score might reveal that they will be unable to achieve what they want, that a weak score now might mean that the student will never have a good SAT or ACT score to send to colleges!

This is a needless worry. Experience teaches us not to put too much stock in how well we perform before we know what we are doing. If we don’t score well the first time we play golf; before we’ve learned how to grip the club properly, how to stand, how to swing; before we’ve practiced a swing a thousand times; before we’ve gotten experience playing a few rounds; should we take that first score to heart? Should we take it seriously at all?

Let’s go beyond acceptance of the first clumsy attempt or the first “bad” score. Let’s embrace and welcome those humble beginnings. We absolutely need them in order to become great. A key to greatness is being willing to start, being willing to learn, and being willing to work through difficulty.

Be willing to play badly at first!  

This is an important principle guiding all the work we do at MSTYT. The principle teaches us that, if we want to be great, we have to start wherever we are!  We need to be able to begin, and to keep working, regardless of how weakly we perform. Our willingness to begin badly makes great achievement possible.

A great exemplar of this principle is Sara Blakely, the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. Ms. Blakely is the founder of Spanx, a women’s hosiery company with estimated sales of $250 million a year. What is most significant about Sara Blakely’s accomplishment is its humble beginning. Ms. Blakely’s only business experience prior to founding Spanx was selling fax machines. She began the business with $5000 in savings.  She started the business out of her apartment.  So she began with limited education, limited capital, and no connections to speak of.

When she first conceived her “footless pantyhose” idea, one could say she was willing to play badly at first.  Few people would even get on the phone to speak with her about her idea. She wrote her own U.S. patent application and spent a precious $750 out of her $5000 nest egg to have an attorney finish it for her. She called, and then personally visited mills in the Southern U.S. before she found even one willing to manufacture her product.

Could she have built an enterprise without being willing to play badly at first? You decide. 

It turns out that Sara Blakely’s ability to weather very humble beginnings to produce a significant success is not an accident.   Her dad made willingness to risk failure a centerpiece of what he taught his kids. According to Blakely, her dad would ask the kids at dinner, “what did you fail at today”? He apparently wanted his children to learn to try for what they wanted, and not to let fear of failure get in their way.

So, begin your game! Welcome your first few clumsy attempts, your first few “bad” scores. You can’t become great without them!

That’s all for this week. If you want to learn more about how to get past your fear of failure, and into the right mindset to play your best possible game, get in touch with us and ask for a get-acquainted meeting. We look forward to hearing from you!

- Steve

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