21 Bits of Wit and Wisdom from the Woman Behind the Billion-Dollar Brand

UPDATED: June 7, 2023
PUBLISHED: December 8, 2015

1. On living life to the fullest: “You’ve got one shot at life. This is not a dress rehearsal.”

2. On her auspicious move from Clearwater, Florida, to Atlanta, Georgia: “If I hadn’t moved to Atlanta, I don’t know that I would have invented Spanx. This is the exact city I was supposed to be living in to create this product, because growing up on a beach, nobody cares about fashion. I didn’t grow up reading fashion magazines. I didn’t dress up for anything, basically. And then I moved to Atlanta, where people dress up to go to lunch. And I kept thinking, What’s going on? What am I supposed to wear under these white pants? So things happen.”

3. On not taking it all for granted: “I have such a deep gratitude for being a woman born in America in this moment, at this time, and the connection to that gratitude gives me the courage to do things that I wouldn’t normally. I have gratitude for this life I’ve been given, and I’ve had a connection and a strong feeling about wanting to help women for a long time, since I was little. I just wasn’t sure how it was going to show up and happen in my life. I think it’s quite funny that I started with their butts. I did not see that one coming. But you have to start somewhere, and it turns out it was a pretty good place to start.”

4. On regrets: “I have very few regrets. Probably because I’m very focused on not regretting things. But if you were to really press me, I would say I regret not learning a foreign language and not learning an instrument. If I could do it over again, I’d be bilingual and I would play the guitar. I would have taken the time in school when I was there to gain those two things.”

5. On her fear of flying: “I am so stressed every time I take off, I basically have a panic attack, and I don’t want to feel that way anymore. I’m going to continue to fly regardless, but I don’t want my body to go through this anxiety. What has helped is Bose noise reduction headphones, and my good luck song [Mark Knopfler’s ‘What It Is’]. Believe it or not, that has helped me a lot. I have to listen to it every takeoff. It has a really good intro for when the plane is going down the runway. It just works. The song is called ‘What It Is,’ so I think it’s sort of reminding me that it is what it is, like you’ve got to let go.”

6. On her fear of public speaking: “The more you do it, the more you just continue to face your fears, the less control it has on you. Although it does ebb and flow. I can be giving speeches for months and then get up one time and completely be a wreck and nervous. I’m still nervous every time I speak.”

7. On Wayne Dyer: “He’s had a tremendous impact on my life. He really spoke to me in a way that made so much sense, and I just started really paying attention to how I was processing life and thinking about things, and I started really training myself to see the hidden blessing when things happened and, I guess, just truly recognizing how much control you have over your own attitude towards life. That’s something you are fully able to change, and no matter how you were raised or your upbringing or what walk of life you come from, at the end of the day, that’s something that you truly have control over, and your attitude toward things directly impacts the life you live.”

8. On the benefits of a mentor: “I think a mentor is a really important and wonderful gift in someone’s life. I would also just say that equally important is having someone in your life who believes in you.”

9. On successful business calls: “I have never, ever made an important phone call sitting down. The outcome of the call is always better when I’m standing. It probably has something to do with energy, confidence, delivery. It’s just a subtle nuance I have found to be helpful.”

10. On self-preservation: “I think one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is letting go of what other people think of us.”

11. On dark days: “I definitely have down days. I feel it, I go through it and I recognize it for what it is. I give myself permission to feel really bad some days. Some days I feel really frustrated. But I don’t think the goal is the absence of feeling bad. I think it’s just taking it all in and using all of it—the good, the bad, the ups and the downs.”

12. On defining success in one word: “Hmm. Success in one word? Happiness is a pretty good goal. I think if you’re achieving happiness and a happy person, that’s figuring it all out. Even if it’s not going exactly how you thought it would be, if you can be a happy person day in and day out, that means you’re successful.”

13. On being warned by friends, family and colleagues not to appear on The Rebel Billionaire: “I have two different ways I approach decisions. I either check in only with myself, or I will seek the advice and opinion of a small circle of people and then still check in with myself and factor in their thoughts. And on that particular one, I sought the advice of several people and then checked in with my gut. And my gut told me to still do it. My lawyer was begging me not to do it. He said, ‘You own your own company, you’re the face of a brand, you’re going to turn over your likeness to Fox and Fox may be able to portray you in a way that you’re not.’ He was very nervous, like, Why would you jeopardize all that you’ve worked for and what you’ve already accomplished? He was nervous about that. He just thought it was an unnecessary risk to take at that point in my journey.”

14. On her time on The Rebel Billionaire: “I did put my life at risk on that show. Richard [Branson] even came out and said that they almost lost me in particular. It was a very intense show.”

15. On giving back: “The premise behind Leg Up [a program Blakely developed to help spread the word about budding female entrepreneurs and their businesses] was for me to pay it forward, my Oprah moment, because I got to be on her show when I had no money to advertise, and I had just invented something, and I was sitting in my apartment in Atlanta, Georgia, and she exposed my invention to millions of people, and that made a huge difference. So I have an opportunity [with the millions of customers whose trust I’ve earned over the years] to expose other women entrepreneurs and their products or their art and inventions to them, and I do that through the Spanx catalog. I put them in there. I take their product, a picture of them and a brief bio or a clip about their story and expose them and shine a light on them. You know, the gift that I can give, with my platform from Spanx, is exposure. Like Oprah used her platform of exposure to end up doing so much good for so many people.”

16. On introducing Spanx products for men: “When we invented the compression undershirt for men, we realized that men didn’t take their shirts off [the same way as women]. They grab the middle of their backs. We actually put in an instruction card, because all these men kept emailing and saying, ‘I can’t get it off. I can’t get it off.’ It was very funny.”

17. On if she’ll ever sell her company: “I’ve been approached so much for so many years, and the story behind that is when I first invented Spanx, in the first six months of the business, everyone kept asking me what my exit strategy was. And I didn’t know what an exit strategy was. Well, one day I said, ‘I want to exit the room and look good. That’s my exit strategy.’ And all these men were like, ‘What?’ I’ve never taken a business class in my life, so I didn’t even know that people started businesses just to sell them. I didn’t realize that people were starting businesses with the end game in mind the day they’re starting their business, because all these people were asking me my exit strategy and I was just starting. So fast-forward 15 years later, I operate so much from gut and instinct, I feel that if and when that time arises [to sell Spanx], I’ll know it.”

18. Whether she’d leave Spanx to head a company such as Coca-Cola or Delta: “No. I would only find myself inventing something else, creating another category. I get all my energy from making things that already exist better or creating something that didn’t already exist. My mind’s thinking of things all the time. I have like three or four really, really good ideas in other industries right now that I think someone should take and run with. I keep a notebook full of them.”

19. On her husband, Jesse Itzler: “He is a character. He just wrote a book called Living With a SEAL. One day he came home and said, ‘Honey, do you mind if a Navy SEAL moves in with our family for 30 days and gets me in really good shape?’ And I said no, and then three days later the Navy SEAL was at my breakfast table. And so he blogged about his experience of living with the Navy SEAL, and the Navy SEAL agreed to do it under one circumstance: that my husband do everything he told him to do.”

20. On her motto for success: “I don’t necessarily have a motto for success, but I do have a life motto, and my life motto is the more you experience, the more you have to offer others. So I seek out experiences even if they scare me, and how I get my energy and courage to keep doing them is because I keep thinking I’m going to have more to offer others. I will just become a more understanding human, a more empathetic human, a more interesting human. It’s like going back to that gratitude and the purpose, and I can really mobilize myself to do things in the name of helping others and especially helping women.”

21. A funny story about her life motto: “I was at a cocktail party with my husband and I had a bunch of people standing around me, and at one point the conversation led to me mentioning that I have a life motto that I live by, and someone at the party said, ‘Well, what is your motto?’ and … I forgot my motto. My husband, who has a great sense of humor, thought that was so hilarious. He’s like, ‘You have a life motto that you live by and you forgot it?’ So he had a custom neon sign made for me that says, ‘I have a motto I live by, but I forgot it.’ I came home from a business trip and hanging in my living room [is this big neon sign], and I’m like, ‘I get it, honey.’”

Sara Blakely is featured in the January 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Discover the 4 success secrets that boosted her career and business, and how Oprah Winfrey and Wayne Dyer changed her life forever.