“Failure is not trying.”

Sara Blakely

Simply continuing is one of the surest paths to success, just as quitting is one of the surest paths to permanent defeat. Winners look for any reason to advance and in doing so bring themselves ever closer to glory.

An excerpt from the ethos of one of the world’s preeminent special forces teams, the US Navy SEALs, embodies the principle of persistence:

“If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.”

On the battlefield—where stakes are highest—well-constructed plans are carried out by people obsessed with mission success and who refuse to give in, no matter what circumstances arise. There are no valid excuses for permanent defeat, and the best performing individuals on the planet embody this to perfection. Enter Sara Blakely.

Before she became the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world, the fashion icon was accustomed to failure. One of her early jobs was playing a Chipmunk character at Disney World, but she threw in the towel after three months. “Perhaps I should be a lawyer like my father,” she thought, but failed the LSAT—twice. Blakely then started selling fax machines during the day, while performing standup comedy shows at night.

Two years in, she abandoned the comedy routine, but persisted with the sales job. Selling fax machines for seven years—and dealing with rejection on a daily basis—proved an uncanny battleground for what would happen later in her career, not that she could ever have imagined what was possible. As Steve Jobs says, “You can only connect the dots looking back.”

One day, on a whim, Blakely cut the feet off a regular pair of pantyhose to provide some respite from the unbearable heat and humidity of a Florida summer. Looking to buy a professional version, she explored the market and found that nothing like she wanted existed. Instead, she decided to do it herself. Blakely began researching fabrics and designing products herself, coming up with the cheeky business name Spanks (now Spanx). Her slogan: Don’t worry, we’ve got your butt covered.

Without any background in fashion, manufacturing or business, aside from selling telecommunications equipment, Blakely burned the ships and went all-in to bring her dream to life. Starting an entire business from scratch meant there was a lot that needed to be done, with the most pressing task being tracking down a manufacturer who could turn the prototype of her unique shapewear garment into something for the mass market.

Through her research, the 29-year-old realized that the bulk of hosiery mills in the US are in North Carolina. She called and called and called, but was rejected time and time again, often not even being able to get the right person at the company on the phone. Dejected but not beaten, she persisted. Blakely decided to take a week off from her full-time job and drive to North Carolina, reasoning that it would be easier to convince them in person. Yet, throughout the entire week, she was again rejected from every mill she approached.

“They always asked the same three questions,” Blakely reflects. “Who are you? Who are you representing? And who are you backed by?”

Her answer to all three questions, ‘Sara Blakely,’ did little to convince the mills she was about to take the fashion world by storm. Despite the short-term failure, she remained obsessed with mission success, and returned home to come up with a different plan to make her dream a reality.

Two weeks later, one of the mill owners phoned to say he had shown the concept to his three daughters who had raved about it. Blakely, without any financial backing, had not only secured a manufacturer but found someone who believed in her idea.

The aspiring entrepreneur continued to work on her business, ignoring all the doubts and excuses, instead choosing to focus on a single reason why she could succeed. A single idea, backed with persistence, made Sara Blakely the youngest self-made female billionaire in history.

Today, the incredible story is taught in business schools around the world. When temporary failure or rejection enters your life, most people quit. But winners—whether special forces, entrepreneurs, athletes or business titans—know how to calibrate their plans and continue toward their goal.

Through the power of persistence, they are able to turn temporary failure into enduring victory.

Onwards and upwards always,
James Whittaker

In case you missed it:
“The Greatest Lessons and 65 Best Quotes from Napoleon Hill.”

Famous quotes by Sara Blakely

“You can’t have courage without fear.”

Jocko Willink

There are two sets of circumstance in life: what we can control and what we cannot control. Regardless of how we feel, we are where we are right now because of our decisions to this point.

When we reach a crossroads in our life—or find ourselves in a moment of discomfort, unhappiness or even tragedy—we ask ourselves, “How did I get here?” But a more constructive course of action is to:

An interesting paradigm shift occurs when we draw a line in the sand and take personal responsibility for our circumstances. First, we let go of the pain that’s been holding us back, allowing us to move forward unencumbered. Second, we realize that we have far more power over our own circumstances than we had ever imagined. Finally, it empowers us to make better decisions—on the condition that we have prepared a clear definition of success.

In 1836, during the Battle of the Alamo, Colonel William Travis received a letter from his foe, Mexican General (and also the country’s sitting President) Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, demanding instant surrender. The general and his 1,500-strong battalion had the Alamo and its 150 Texan soldiers completely surrounded.

Twenty-six-year old Travis gathered the Alamo defenders together and explained that their demise was not only probable but imminent, leading to two simple choices: either die courageously defending the Alamo or willingly surrender to the enemy. Travis pulled out his sword, drew a literal line in the sand, and asked for volunteers to cross the line and join him—against unsurmountable odds—to continue to defend their position

With their course of action agreed, Travis responded to the surrender letter with cannon fire. As the siege continued, he wrote a letter addressed to the people of Texas and across America:

Fellow citizens and compatriots;

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken.

I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch.

The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country.


William Barret Travis

Lt. Col. Comdt.

Travis died in the ensuing battle, but his message inspired the region. When Travis’ letter was received, reinforcements arrived and defeated Santa Anna, paving the way for the Republic of Texas to be admitted as the 28th member of the United States.

Today, Travis’ letter of defiance is regarded as a “masterpiece of American patriotism”. The simple act of drawing a line in the sand gives us a conscious acknowledgement that the past is irreversible and reminds us that all we have control over are our thoughts and the decisions we make from this point onwards. Today’s decisions are tomorrow’s realities.

Your future isn’t written; it’s never too late. If you’re sick of accepting whatever fate hands you, take purposeful action—even if you’re afraid to take the first step. After all, you can’t have courage without fear, as the earlier Jocko Willink quote reminds us.

Victory or death. The choice is yours.

Onwards and upwards always,
James W.

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