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Ali Kokot & Hayley Brooks
Think Twice

Credit: Hayley Brooks and Ali Kokot

In 1959, Lilly Pulitzer spilled orange juice on herself.

As it works with klutzes (Hayley would know), Pulitzer figured this wouldn’t be a one-time thing. So what was a girl running a Palm Beach juice stand to do? Design a dress with splashes of color to cover up both actual and projected fruit juice stains. Pulitzer then sold the dresses for 22 bucks a pop at the stand and expanded from the elite circles of Palm Beach to Jackie Kennedy’s clutches — they were homegirls at Miss Porter’s, duh.

Lilly Pulitzer, who passed away at 81 on Sunday, was no fashion prodigy, but one could argue that her dresses made as much of a splash in American closets as a pair of heeled legs do on Locust. Known for her blunder-turned-business model, Pulitzer’s tale is a refreshing success story that finds promise in our daily mistakes — one of hers landed her a company with net sales over $100 million just this past year.

Birthed from clumsiness, her line became a completely original, unbelievably successful brand. Pulitzer was wonderfully unapologetic about her lack of business experience, telling the Associated Press in 2009 that she “designed collections around whatever struck my fancy … fruits, vegetables, politics or peacocks.”

Pulitzer wasn’t the only one who stumbled into the fashion world. One of our role models, Sara Blakely — the founder of Spanx pantyhose and the youngest self-made female billionaire — just needed to look less lumpy under a pair of white slacks and was too hot to wear hose with seamed toes. Her former path — part-time gig at Walt Disney World and selling fax machines door-to-door — hardly rivals founding Spanx.

As overachieving students always looking for the next strategic step, we might take a lesson from this accidental entrepreneur. At Penn, we’re consumed by planting ourselves on the perfect path to success. We meticulously pick the “right” clubs so we can nab the most impressive internship to ultimately score the best job.

But maybe, in our obsessive Penn way, by looking forward, we’re missing the snippets of banality that could determine our futures. Lilly’s spilled morning OJ sparked an international clothing line. Our spilled morning OJ just makes us cranky and late to Fisher-Bennett hall. We sweat the stains because they swerve us off course, but Pulitzer shows us that the wavering could catapult us toward something even better.

We’re so calculated in all of our decisions, but our attempts to forecast our futures would be better spent just living and doing, spilling breakfast. Pulitzer found her next move while doing something she enjoyed: running a juice stand to pass the time. So why don’t we all just take off some of the pressure and kick back a glass?

It might seem obvious, but as long as you’re happy, wherever you are now is a great place to be and will organically carry you to your next stepping stone. It is common to find a new job through the relationships you’ve created at your current post, just as a course with a great professor can lead you down a new academic lane.

If you don’t believe us, maybe you’ll take it from our founder, Benjamin Franklin. Frankly put, electricity was invented by accident — Ben mistakenly shocked himself before his lightning rod invention could shock the public.

Potato chips, penicillin, the microwave, the pacemaker, corn flakes, X-rays — they all just happened by accident. Remember the last time you had a great idea? It probably didn’t appear on command. It probably found you, like Harry Potter found J.K. Rowling, and Hayley’s Common Application idea found her in the shower.

Of course being goal-oriented keeps us motivated, but letting it distract us from living in the present could be counterproductive.

Like Lilly, have the courage to take a risk or to follow through with an unconventional idea. Acting on impulses — speaking to the guest lecturer after class or, more generally, taking time to investigate what you find interesting — will get your juices flowing (but hopefully not onto your dress). So as you frown at your upcoming laundry list of tasks, draw a premature line through a couple of them, and make some time to let life happen to you.

Ali Kokot and Hayley Brooks are College juniors from New York, N.Y. and Ft. Lauderdale, F.L. respectively. You can email them at or follow them at @haybethbrooks and @alikokot. “Think Twice” appears every Wednesday.

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