Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, is working to close the gender gap in technology with her non-profit. The bestselling author is out with a new book, “Brave, Not Perfect,” inspired by her popular TED Talk in which calls for a new model for raising girls — not to be perfect but to be brave, encouraging them to fear less, fail more and live more boldly. Saujani shares her personal journey abandoning perfection and rewiring herself to be brave.
Here, Saujani shares how she challenged herself to fail and how she works be brave every day.
I had the ‘perfect’ life, but I was miserable in it.
My whole life people have thought of me as ambitious. From a young age, I was the perfect immigrant daughter: straight A’s, onto Harvard and Yale, and then right into a corporate law job in New York City. From the outside, it looked like I had it all together. I was exactly the kind of woman you would call a “go-getter.”
But at age 33 I realized something that changed my life: being a go-getter doesn’t mean that you are gutsy. I had the “perfect” life, but I was miserable in it. Deep down, my dream — my true passion — was to give back to this country through public service. And no matter how many gold stars or fancy degrees I had racked up, the reality is that I wasn’t doing it.
So finally, on the brink of depression, I decided to do something gutsy. I quit my job and ran for U.S. Congress, the first Indian-American woman in the country ever to do so. I poured my heart into the campaign for 10 months, and I lost…miserably. But I lived to talk about it. Did the failure hurt? Yes! But for the first time in my life, I knew what bravery felt like, and I fell in love.
I believe that one brave act opens the door to so many others. After losing that election, I went on to found Girls Who Code, which is closing the gender gap in computer science and technology. That’s right: I founded a non-profit to teach girls coding, with no background myself in technology. The perfectionist in me would never have dreamed of doing something so far outside my comfort zone.
For the first time in my life, I knew what bravery felt like, and I fell in love.
Bravery is like a muscle: when you work it, it grows.
But bravery is like a muscle: when you work it, it grows. When you neglect it, it atrophies. It’s all too easy for us to fall off the wagon and slip back into our perfectionist instincts. Bravery just isn’t a “one and done” — we have to make it a practice, just like meditation.
Here are three ways that I practice every day bravery:
1. Keep your tank full: This one is simple, but it’s critical. We can’t be brave if we are burned out. There’s no way you can have the stamina to take risks if you feel like you are out of gas. Self-care looks different for everyone, but for me I absolutely have to get my exercise in. And rather than squeezing my “me time” in at 5 a.m. to avoid inconveniencing my family, I head out the door right smack in the middle of breakfast. Try it!
2. Do something you suck at: We all have a comfort zone, and most of us hate going beyond it. We become convinced that we are good at certain things and bad at others, and that’s just how it’s going to be, end of story. Ironically, I am not great with technology, so when my phone breaks or there’s something up with my laptop, my first instinct is to call in my husband. No more. When you get near an activity you tend to shy away from, build your bravery muscle by tackling it yourself. It’ll be frustrating, but proving that you can do it is a major boost.
3. Stop people-pleasing: How many times a day do you bite your tongue to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or coming off “a certain way”? We have all seen the studies: women who speak up are perceived as loud, pushy, or worse. But going through life not using your voice is a sure-fire way to end up feeling bitter. And the less we use our voice with the world, the harder it can become to hear it ourselves. So stop trying to make everyone like you, and start saying what’s on your mind.