How many parents do you know tell their kids to go fail?

That’s exactly what billionaire Sara Blakely was told by her father when she was growing up. She attributes that one principle to her success as a billionaire entrepreneur.

Let me tell you the story of Sara Blakely, founder of her privately held company, Spanx. She is said to be the youngest self-made female billionaire ever. Her amazing business success runs contrary to conventional thinking about business training and experience. Hard work, persistence, creative thinking and humility were some of the character-building attributes she learned from her father.

I recently heard Sara’s story on CNN's GPS show with Fareed Zakaria. I came away with insights I believe we all need to apply in our own lives.

Blakely's initial claim to fame and fortune is a product that, in her description, makes women's figures look better. The idea came to her as she prepared for an evening out. Frustrated by how she looked in white pants, she took scissors to traditional panty hoses and created what has evolved into a popular range of "body shapers."

Today Spanx offers a rapidly-growing product offering that benefits from increasing use. Blakely believes those who use Spanx can end up feeling better about themselves.

The journey from initial concept to today's unlikely reality was a long and difficult one. Blakely faced many obstacles. She confronted a daunting string of early rejections and skepticism that would have probably derailed most others. She had very little money to support her entrepreneurship. In fact, she started Spanx with only $5,000 of her own money. She lacked any formal business training. Yet she managed to overcome all this, and shares a couple of great stories on her road to success.

Overcoming Rejection and Redefining Failure

She explains that she overcame fear of rejection by selling fax machines door to door for 7 years (that might cure me of that too). Secondly, through her upbringing and early employment, Blakely re-defined her definition of failure with the help of her father. He always encouraged her to go out and try things. If she failed she was met with a high-five and the words, “Way to go girl! I am proud of you for trying!” (he would regularly ask his kids at the dinner table about their failures, commending them for trying).

So, from her early experiences she learned that real failure was not trying as opposed to not succeeding. That removed the fear of failure from her mindset and freed her to experiment without fear of failure hanging over her head. Wow! What wisdom from that father!  

One humorous story she shared was about trying to get North Carolina mills to take a risk on making her product. All of them turned her down except one. The owner of that mill happened to have three daughters. He shared the concept with his daughters who immediately responded, “Dad, you MUST make that product!” Now you know the rest of the story.

Perseverance is a key attribute for success in any endeavor in life. Peter shares with us in the following passage that perseverance as well as other attributes is a requirement for a successful life.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8).

Os Hillman is president of Marketplace Leaders and author of Change Agent and TGIF: Today God Is First, a free email daily devotional.

Publication date: October 15, 2013