spanx, business, entrepreneurs

Spanx founder Sara Blakely surprised her employees with a trip for two to anywhere in the world.

It all started with a pair of white pants.

Sara Blakely was getting ready for a party in 1998 and couldn't find a pair of undies that looked smooth under her white pants. So she took a pair of scissors to a pair of control-top pantyhose and ended up creating the first rendition of what would become her billion-dollar business idea.

Just two years later, Blakely's Spanx undergarment brand was being touted on Oprah's Favorite Things list. Twelve years after that, Blakely graced the cover of Forbes as the world's youngest self-made female billionaire.

Not too shabby for a woman who sold fax machines door-to-door before some unsightly panty lines drastically shifted her life.

After founding Spanx with just $5000 of her own money, Blakely, now 50, just sold the majority stake in the business to investment firm Blackstone, with a valuation of $1.2 billion. Blakely isn't leaving or anything—she retains a significant share of the company, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and will become executive chairwoman once the transaction closes.

"This is a really important moment in time for female entrepreneurs," Blakely said of the deal in a press release. "I started this company with no business experience and very little money, but I cared the most about the customer, and that gave me the courage to launch the company."

Blakely also cares about her employees. Every conscientious businessperson understands that you can't grow a successful company without hard-working employees, but not every businessperson generously rewards the people who help build and maintain their success. Blakely does, however. Upon selling part of the company, she decided to share some of the wealth she gained with the 500+ people she employs.


"When I first started this company, I wrote down one goal," Blakely said in a video posted on her Instagram account. "I said this company will one day be worth 20 million dollars. And everybody laughed at me."

Blakely explained that Spanx had created success using "very feminine principles in a masculine space, which is business," which include leading with intuition and vulnerability. Then, after toasting the women who came before her and those who have not had the opportunity she's had, Blakely announced a surprise.

"This is a very big moment for each and every one of you," she said. "To celebrate this moment, I have bought each one of you two first-class tickets to anywhere in the world."

She also gave each employee $10,000 to spend wherever those tickets take them.

"I really want every employee to celebrate this moment in their own way and create a memory that will last them a lifetime! Cheers to 21 years of magic and many more to come," Blakely wrote on Instagram.

Talk about taking care of your employees. Phew.

According to the AJC, Blackstone will be leaving Spanx's executive management team in place. There is also a joint plan to create an all-female board of directors as the company grows.

Blakely's mission has been "to help women feel great about themselves and their potential," and she has used Spanx's success to help elevate women. The company's website highlights the female founders of companies and organizations bettering the lives of women around the world, and Spanx uses a portion of its products' proceeds to support their work.

The Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation has also donated $5 million to boost female entrepreneurship. In partnership with GlobalGiving, the foundation established The Red Backpack Fund to help small woman-owned businesses, giving more than 1,000 female entrepreneurs a gift of $5,000—the exact amount Sara Blakely started Spanx with 20 years ago.

Congratulations to Sara Blakely for hitting yet another entrepreneurial milestone in an incredible self-made career, and congrats to her employees for being rightly rewarded for building her company's success.

Definitely more of this, please.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

via Pexels

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There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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Photo by TR on Unsplash

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Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

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