Emotional on I-66: Motivation can come from weird places 2

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DC traffic isn’t the only thing that can stir up emotions

I’m not sure we can ever be fully conscious of out emotional stability, or instability for that matter. There’s a good chance our perception of normal, when we look into the preverbal mirror, doesn’t exactly jive with reality. Honest self-awareness probably isn’t all that common, especially when it comes to our emotions. I may be more of a wild card than I think, but from a distance, I bet I appear pretty normal.

That said, every now and then, something happens to my emotions that freaks me out, makes me angry, motivates me, and even delivers gratitude, all at the same time. The latest episode of my ordinarily predictable emotions escaping me was while I was battling traffic on I-66 into D.C. Oddly enough, it was as I listened to the the creator of Spanx tell her story.

I had flipped on Guy Raz’s new podcast, How I Built This, which is off to a great start,1)You may recognize the name from The TED Radio Hour, but so far, he has taken us behind the scenes of Instagram and Spanx. and his first guest of the season is Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. Ordinarily, I might have tried to find a podcast with a topic a little more XY chromosome, but traffic was heavy and I didn’t have time to flip through my phone. Whether or not I liked it, I was about to get schooled on the most groundbreaking thing to happen to underwear since boxer-briefs.

Here's a link to the show. I recommend subscribing on your phone.

Here’s a link to the show. I recommend subscribing on your phone.

The Spanx founder starts by sharing the genesis of her idea and the things she was doing before she had a clue what her company could be. I am listening to Sara’s story and something very uncomfortable happens. I start feeling emotional. Not necessarily crying, but maybe, I think I could have cried if I wanted to. Sort of like the way anyone with a soul would feel at the end of Blood Diamond.

So, while I’m listening, I’m getting excited, frustrated, and maybe a little nervous. She’s giving rundown of all the stops she made while building a women’s undergarment empire. It was remarkable to hear how ill-equipped she was to set out on her journey. No education. No experience. No capital.

She knew nothing about textiles and manufacturing, so she went to every textile mill she could find to ask them to build a prototype. It was just men running these factories and they weren’t interested. They couldn’t see the value. I’m envisioning her pleading with these knuckleheads and dragging herself out of bed to go to just one more factory. Finally, she said the right thing to the right person. No coincidence it was a plant owner with daughters that knew full well the value of Sara’s product.

Dang, I bet it feels good to believe in something that much…

She couldn’t pay for a patent so she went to the Georgia Tech library to figure out how to write it herself. I’m can imagine her sifting through books, unsure of where to find the answers she needs, but already resigned to the fact she isn’t stopping until she gets them. And then her euphoria when the librarian told her there was a website built exactly for what she was looking for.

Takes guts to attack something when there is no resume´, background, or education to back it up…

She flew to Dallas, on a whim, with a pair of Spanx in a Ziploc bag to show a potential distributor. I’m imagining her pleading with her friends by offering to pay them to buy the product, all in an effort to create demand. When that wasn’t enough, she decides to visit every store carrying her product and relocates her Spanx kiosks to more premium shelf space.

Something special is going on when you’ll put everything on the line…

Sara’s story was fantastic, but it really wasn’t all that much different than some of the incredible stories we’ve heard before. In fact, I’m sure good ole Guy has quite a few more solid interviews lined up. Something I appreciated about this particular story was how it had nothing to do with what school she went to, who she knew, or that she started coding when she was 6. Spanx never found it’s way to a Silicon Valley stage or received backing from a VC. She didn’t draw up an exit strategy either, because she loved what she was doing.2)Fact: Sara Blakely still owns 100% of her billion dollar empire.

Nope, she was just a girl who needed a problem fixed and figured others might want the same thing. It didn’t take long for her to find out she wasn’t the only one cutting the feet off her pantyhose. She didn’t stop her day job, and she didn’t listen to the “noise.” She just went for it. She put in the work and crushed it.

Okay…but why are you crying again?

Now, I fully acknowledge I could have just been hungry or perhaps I was just happy for all the women that have found joy in this life-altering pair of skivvies. Either way, the story definitely struck me in a way I didn’t expect. The more I think about it, I don’t think it’s because she’s a great storyteller, or that I was happy for her, or that I love Spanx. It was something I think I needed that day, in that moment.

As I listened to Sara share her story, the emotions helped vindicate something very important to me. The military has provided a ton of great opportunities for me and my family. Between leadership development, experiences, and a sense of service, I have a lot to be thankful for. Even while fully acknowledging my blessing and opportunity, I very much look forward to the day that my efforts can be directed toward something I influenced and built. The military has a way of giving, what I call, tunnel vision. It can be tough to envision life outside the military and the comfort it gives you can keep you from pushing yourself towards new things…like running a decent blog for example.

Sara’s story helped affirm the passion I have to begin building a legacy outside of my comfort zone. Whether it’s building a startup, creating content for the blog, hosting a podcast, launching a new product, or digging in and taking a chance by doing something I’m excited to wake up and do, her journey offered some assurance that isn’t all that easy to find. It’s time to get uncomfortable and start building some momentum.





Footnotes   [ + ]

1. You may recognize the name from The TED Radio Hour, but so far, he has taken us behind the scenes of Instagram and Spanx.
2. Fact: Sara Blakely still owns 100% of her billion dollar empire.

About Brent Nichols

My blogging is, no doubt, all over the map, but hope you'll find something just right for you. Currently living in the D.C.-metro area in Northern Virginia. You know what? I think I kinda like it out here.

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2 thoughts on “Emotional on I-66: Motivation can come from weird places

  • Tim Nichols

    Good blog which causes me to do my own reflections on getting things done. Listened to 8 hours of Ramsey on the way to and from San Diego, got fired up about budgeting and living like no other…need to execute full force, but I seem to be posturing because of “other” priorities. About the military – you are right and I totally understand, an individual can become very complacent. You however have a great vision, discipline, and are constantly building towards a stronger you. From my experiences, people don’t start to peak until their forties…if they have a peak period. So, if someone said I will provide you a strong passive income and healthcare for life – and the use of North Island and other resorts 😉 while you are executing what you have built for during the years in the “tunnel”, it would be hard to turn it down. I also see very few military members with your insight and preparation for being successful beyond the military. You are maximizing your time like no other…look forward to the next 19 blogs.