Barbara Corcoran: Rethinking Failure at TEDxBarnardCollege (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of American businesswoman Barbara Corcoran’s TEDx Talk presentation: Rethinking Failure at TEDxBarnardCollege conference. To learn more about the speaker, read the bio here.

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Barbara Corcoran – American businesswoman

Thank you. Very nice to be here. I’ll start with a story.

I grew up in a small town in New Jersey. It was exactly two blocks wide and one mile long and we had the biggest family in town. My mother took her six girls and put them in the girls room, painted it pink, of course, and then she put her four boys in the boys room, painted it blue. And my parents produced every one of those children from the living room couch that was between the two bedrooms. Lesson in that, by the way, and not on failure.

I first discovered the word ‘failure’ in the classroom. I can distinctly remember being in class and not being able to read or write until I was in third grade, or thereabouts when I started getting the hang of it and being ashamed of myself. But I was kind of OK with it.

I was sent back to the second-grade classroom one day after school. And I knew the moment I walked in that I was in trouble. It was Sister Stella Marie saying that she was a nun from hell. There was also a Ella Maloney that all the kids at school called the retarded girl, and there was Rudy Valentino, not the famous guy but Rudy Valentino, the Italian kid that just came off the boat as we said. And I was asked to have a seat.

When Sister Stella Marie told me if I didn’t learn to pay attention, I would always be stupid. That was the day I first discovered that I had a label, and it was about failure. My idea of hell to this day is being asked to read out loud, to have the shame that you feel reading out loud. And in a situation where education whole system judges a child’s intelligence simply based on how well they could read or write to certain abilities, I learned how to be a loser and I couldn’t wait to get out of that jail house, that everybody loved this school, I couldn’t wait the day I got out of it.

And so when I grew up, I continued to learn a lot about failure, but frankly, I realized that that was the best calling card for the rest of my life, because nothing was going to feel as bad as that for me ever again.

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All of my singular phenomenal successes that helped me build my business happened on the heels of failure. I didn’t choose it that way, but somehow it always worked that way. When Ramon Simone who was my first love and business partner left to marry my secretary, I thought I would never walk again, because I was madly in love with him and he had found me at the diner, had taken me out of my home town and he gave me the $1000 to start my business. And so when he left me, I really felt like nothing.

And when I finally built the courage to leave that business partnership two years later, which was two years, too long on the way out the door, he said to me, “You know, you’ll never succeed without me.” And I felt in my heart through every bone in my body that I would rather die than let him see me not succeed. And it was that insult which really became my insurance policy to continue in business no matter what was happening, because I didn’t want to let that guy see me fail.

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