Day 42: Two key lessons I took from Barbara Corcoran’s Tedx Talk “Rethinking failure.”


Finishing off my crushing fear of failure theme week is a post inspired by Tedx speaker Barbara Corcoran and her presentation “Rethinking failure.” There’s something about Barbara that just draws you in.  Maybe it’s the engaging way she tells a story or the way she candidly speaks, as if talking to a  friend. Whatever it is, this Tedx talk has been one of my favourites to date. Although there were many nuggets of wisdom throughout this talk, there was two important lesson that really stuck out for me.
rethinking failure - barbara corcoran


It begins with a story

Barbara kicks off her Tedx talk by sharing a story about being a second grader who couldn’t read or write. It didn’t bother her, she would get the hang of it by the third grade, but it did bother the school nun who told her that if she didn’t learn to pay attention she would always be stupid.

I have always thought that school teachers need to be careful with their words. So often they say off-handed comments to their students, not fully understanding the weight that their words have. I still remember my grade five music teacher throwing her hands up in the air in exasperation and asking the class if I have any rhythm when I was too shy to dance in front of the class.  Those words did nothing to help my shyness back then.

In Barbara’s case, this nun’s words, weren’t off-handed, they were planned and cruel and those words formed the first label that Barbara attached to her identity -failure. To this day Barbara’s idea of hell is reading out loud.  The school system, where reading and writing is used to measures a student’s worth did nothing to help her self-esteem. Barbara say’s it “taught her to be a looser” As painful as that time in her life was, she thought that experience was the “best calling card for the rest of her life” as nothing would ever feel as bad as that did.

Success happens on the heel of failure

Looking back on her life and career  Barbara realised that most of her success has happened on the heels of failure.  One of those moments involved Ramone, her first love and business partner who left her to marry her secretary. Despite their personal relationship being over, their business partnership remained – I can only imagine how painful those two years must have been.

Lesson 1. Turn arrogant comments into an insurance policy

 Two years later the business breakup happened – Barbara finally left the partnership.    to which Ramone’s parting words were “you will never succeed without me” Arrogant words but I just love how Barbara said that those words became her insurance policy. No matter what was going on she pushed forward in business as she didn’t want “that guy to see her fail.”  What better way to take the power out of an insult than to reframe it as fuel to motivate you and help you push forward.  People’s insults have always fuelled me to prove them wrong. I’m stubborn and I don’t like anyone to tell my what my limitations are, framing these poison words as an insurance policy just might do the trick.

Lesson 2. Take less time to feel sorry for yourself

Barbara is a real estate mogul who has a particular hiring quality. Over the years she has noticed that her best realtors are not those who have the highest academic achievement, those things even out after a year.  It’s not even the people who are the hardest worker who have the most success Barbara noticed. Barbara hires people based on how long it takes them to stop  feeling sorry for themselves after a failure, her realtors with these qualities are those who attain the greatest achievements.


If you haven’t watched Barbara’s Ted talk I highly recommend you do so. It’s funny, engaging and candid that will leave you motivated to push forward through barriers. Barbara is actually host of Shark Tank, which I don’t believe we get the US version here in Australia, which is a shame as the UK show Dragon Den which is similar in concept is one of my favourite shows. If you live in the US watch Shark Tank and tell me all about in the comments below!


Vanessa Rose