Go to The Mission
The Mission
Letter sent on Apr 24, 2017

You won’t win until they start betting against you

She witnessed her friend get hit and killed by a car. On top of that, her parents were getting divorced. Then two more of her friends from school died suddenly. Life was terrifying and confusing. She was only 16.

The girl’s father didn’t know what else to do, so he bought his daughter a motivational set of tapes called How to Be a No-Limit Person.

The girl listened to the tapes. She became meticulous about the information she fed her mind. She soon made a habit of listening to motivational and inspirational CD’s. (Insert eye-rolling from the cynics and gutless here.)

Because she was still in high school, her interests became a running joke amongst her friends and classmates:

“It actually became a joke in high school, because nobody wanted to ride home with me after a party. They would say, ‘[She’s] going to make me listen to that crap.’ Literally, people would be like, ‘Don’t get trapped in [her] car. She’ll make you listen to this totally wackadoodle guy named Wayne Dyer.’”

The jokes from her peers and friends continued, but the girl kept absorbing the best information she could find.

She suspected that there were many things missing from what she was “learning” at school, so she kept seeking out wisdom. She joined the debate team and began to conquer her natural fear of public speaking. After high school she got into a decent college, but left after two years to pursue a legal communications degree at another school. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do…

Maybe become an attorney? The next step was to take the LSAT so she could get into law school. She took the test once, and her score was way too low to get into any decent law school. She studied, took a prep course, and got the same result. Law school wouldn’t be in her future.

Desperate for a job, she auditioned to be Goofy at Disney World. She wasn’t tall enough, they said. She continued undeterred to push for any job she could. The only role Disney offered her was that of ride attendant/greeter. She happily took it. But her happiness was short-lived. The girl was soon met by former classmates. They instantly remembered her and her silly motivational tapes. The memories of their jokes still stung. Running into them as a greeter at Disney World was almost unbearable.

The girl quit after just three months and took a job selling office equipment door to door. It wasn’t glamorous — door to door direct selling is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. On top of that, she was selling expensive fax machines to businesses… not an easy sale.

She was still terrified of public speaking and knew she had to eliminate these fears. She began doing stand-up comedy in the evenings. Every night was the same… she felt like throwing up before going on stage. During the day, she faced countless “no’s”, slammed doors, hung up phones — constant disrespect and derision. At night, while everyone else was relaxing or drinking themselves into oblivion, she was terrorizing herself by forcing herself onstage.

If she was serious about a better life, she knew she was going to have to create it. Instead of getting discouraged, she doubled down on filling her mind with inspiration and visions of what she wanted. She wasn’t sure about what she would create, just that she wanted it to be something that improved the lives of millions. She started searching for “the” idea. She needed something that would pull her out of her current situation. At the same time, she knew what happened when you dared to display ambitions or good ideas around friends and family. So she didn’t tell anyone around her what she was working on… for an entire year. She raised her standards, became wholly focused on improving herself, and refused to let the armchair critics win..

“I knew I wanted my life to be different than it currently was, so I took inventory of my strengths and weaknesses. I recognized that one of my strengths was selling. I really enjoyed it and knew I was good at it.”
“So I said, ‘OK, I want to invent or create a product that I can sell that’s my own and not somebody else’s, and I want it to be something I can sell to millions of people. And I want it to be something that makes people feel good.’ I wrote that specifically in my journal, and I just kept looking for when it was going to show up in my life. I was on high alert.”

Many observers might have laughed at her lofty goal. Why? Perhaps because it’s psychologically painful when we see someone setting standards for themselves that are higher than our own (often non-existent) standards.

After writing those words, THE idea eventually came to her, and she got to work. Word got out that she was working on something… that she had invented something. She devoted nights and weekends to it, skipped parties, and stopped hanging out with those “friends” who were quietly waiting to rationalize away any of her ideas.

Photo, Twenty20

It would have been easy to think it was impossible, or that her current situation suggested she couldn’t do it. After all, she was still living at home, had been selling office equipment door to door for seven years, was dating a loser, and only had $5,000 in savings.

She didn’t have a product yet, but she did have THE idea that could become one. Suddenly, she didn’t just have the idea… the idea had her.

She went to law firms and tried to get them to help her patent the idea. One of the attorneys later reflected on the pitch and said,

“I thought when I first met you, that your idea was so bad that I thought you had been sent by Candid Camera.”

Ouch. Any attorney that seemed mildly interested wanted $3,000 — $5,000 to patent her idea. And she wasn’t having that. So she bought a book about patents and trademarks, and wrote her own patent. She cold called the manufacturers who could make her product. They all laughed before saying no.

When she finally had time to rejoin her circle of friends, groups of people would approach her. They’d heard she had invented something. Like crabs in a bucket, they zeroed in on the crab nearing the brim and tried to pull her back down.

“A bunch of people had heard I had invented something and came up to me and said, ‘You know… business is war.’ I just didn’t accept that and I didn’t believe that. I believed that it could be different.”

She needed support and mentorship, so she joined the Young Entrepreneurs Organization. At the time, it was filled with men. They asked her about her business plan and strategies.

She didn’t have a business plan. And as far as strategies, she mentioned that she was using visualization, along with, “asking the universe for help.”

The men were dumbfounded. But instead of just trying to drag her back down in the bucket, they treated her like entertainment.

“They all later admitted to me they were placing bets on how long I would last in the group, and how long my business would last too.”

Thankfully, she was too busy taking action to notice.

She wasn’t moving fast, in fact she was moving quite slow. But as they say in the military, slow is smooth and smooth is fast. She spent three months designing and redesigning the packaging. It took her another year and a half to settle on a name.

By now, several of the people who doubted her were starting to warm up to the idea. Friends and family tried out her product. Through her persistence, she finally got one manufacturer to agree to build her idea after his daughters said they wanted it. Eventually, she got awarded her own patent and trademark for her creation, and closed her first major sale with Neiman Marcus.

She kept visualizing what she wanted every step of the way. After years of effort, her product was ready, complete with bright red packaging and a name that was perfect… SPANX.

Sara Blakely turned her $5,000 of savings into $1 billion over the next several years. She became the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.

Photo, Twenty20

You’ll know you’re on an interesting path when they start betting against you. You won’t find that path until you force yourself out of your comfort zone. How many people listened to Wayne Dyer, or any inspirational tapes, and never took action? Too many too count.

Sara believed that her thoughts and ideas could become self-fulfilling prophecies. She guarded her belief and nurtured her ideas, never allowing them to be killed in the cradle. She held onto whisps of the idea for years. She sought guidance, and even when no one would believe, she kept the faith and put in the work to exorcise her fear and self-doubt.

Let them bet against you. Guard your ideas. Take massive action. Cold call the people you want to connect. Explain your ideas and understand that people will try anything to pick them apart. Set standards for yourself that are high enough to make others wildly uncomfortable around you.

After she was on the cover of Forbes magazine, Sara got a text from those same high school friends who made fun of her for listening to Wayne Dyer.

“I got some pretty hilarious texts from some of those friends, saying, ‘Damn. I should have listened to that stuff.’” — Sara Blakely, MC

They aren’t the only ones who spoke up and said they should have listened… She still meets that group of men in her entrepreneur organization that took bets against her.

Sara Blakely, Instagram
“I’ve met with them once a month for 14 years and we also take a trip together every year. They are like my brothers. They have completely forgotten I’m a woman. And, especially on these trips, I feel like Jane Goodall, except instead of observing gorillas in their natural habitat, I’m observing men. Oh the things I’ve learned… 😉 P.S. And now they all ask me how to talk to the universe. 🌟👍” –Sara Blakely

You don’t need formal credentials. You DO need to guard your ideas and appropriately value them by taking action. Don’t be afraid to confront the fear of failure and public speaking. Take jobs that put you face-to-face with your detractors. Let them think you’re beaten or marginalized. Get good at direct sales and doing almost everything yourself. Fill your mind with messages of empowerment and hope. It’s terrifying when you realize that no one else will do it for you, but this level of objective analysis is a place where few people are brave enough to tread.

If you want something, proclaim it, hold it in your mind, and go get it. There isn’t a better feeling than receiving apologies or confessions (even if they’re half hearted) from those who tried their best to pull you down.

Life and business don’t have to be cutthroat, it doesn’t have to be like war, and you won’t succeed by following the formula that others think is the recipe for success. Your journey is singular, and being an entrepreneur or founder or billionaire doesn’t have to be your goal. The more you take yourself and your ideas seriously, the more your path will become singular.

So let them laugh. Let them bet against you. Let them roll their eyes. And in the meantime, do the work and the things they won’t. They might text you later asking for forgiveness.

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