At 25, Sara Blakely found herself working for Danka selling fax machines door-to-door in the hot summer sun of Florida. The one-time lawyer want-to-be discovered that she was pretty good at selling. She had a knack for it and quickly began moving up the ranks, training others to sell the way she did. What she wasn’t good at though, was handling the summer heat.
Wearing pantyhose was part of the company dress code. However, the options available were thick and often unappealing when matched with summertime outfits. While preparing to attend a company event one evening, Blakely stared down at her feet and moaned at the sight of a seam poking out of her open-toed shoes. In a fit of frustration, she cut the feet off of her hose.
While the cut edges started to ride up her legs during the evening, Blakely felt she was on to something. Surely other women had felt the same frustration, and here was a potential solution just begging to be developed. Fast forward a few years and Spanx, the intimate-wear company started by Blakely while still selling fax machines, was a top-line brand. Blakely became a billionaire by acting on her idea.
As I read about Blakely’s story, I was inspired by her passion for what she knew was a good idea. She invested her time, energy, and limited savings into making it become a reality. She succeed despite everyone telling her the project was a mistake. And I do mean everyone.
“No one told me to do this, but intuitively, I just felt I should keep my idea to myself and not seek validation from friends and family.”
That’s Blakely talking about the early days of her entrepreneurial journey. But it could be one of any number of successful inventors, business owners, artists, and team leaders speaking about their struggle to create something great. Sadly, it’s the people you should count on for the most support who tend to offer the most criticism. It’s those closest to you – those with the most potential to encourage – who are most likely to crush your dream.
“You’re wasting your time.”
“No one will buy that.”
“Management won’t support it.”
“The competition is too fierce.”
“It costs too much.”
“You don’t have any experience.”
Every success story worth reading includes some version of this early chapter. Our hero identifies a potential solution to a problem, gets excited about it, and starts pouring their heart into it. But the first obstacle they encounter comes from those who ought to be counted among the staunchest supporters.
After a year of work on her project, Sara Blakely began to share her dreams with those close to her. Right on cue, the naysayers spoke up. Her confidence was rattled. The self-doubt set in. Thankfully, Blakely wasn’t deterred and she continued her quest to change an industry.
All great ideas encounter opposition. We expect it from the competition. We expect it from those with something to lose. We expect it from those comfortable with the status-quo. We see those shots coming and prepare for them. It’s the friendly fire that always seems to find its mark.
There are certainly times I’ve allowed my own dreams to be crushed by those I counted as supporters, even allies. I wonder though, how many times have I been the one doing the crushing?