Women are rewarded for perfection from the time they’re very young. The result is they grow up being terrified to fail, according to Reshma Saujani, founder of tech organization Girls Who Code.
That’s why it’s especially important to raise our daughters to be confident and fearless, Saujani recently told Know Your Value founder and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski. It’s a theme Saujani explores in her new book “Brave, Not Perfect.”
Changing the mindset to being brave, not perfect, is the first step and could change young girls’ personal and professional lives for the better, said Saujani, who previously served as the deputy public advocate for New York City.
The problem begins early on in childhood. “Spend five minutes on any playground, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about,” Saujani said. “We tell our boys to climb to the top of the monkey bars and just jump headfast.” The girls hear a different story: “Be careful honey. Don’t swing too high. Is your dress dirty? Let me clean you up. Did you take that toy away from her? Give it back.”
“We are constantly coddling and protecting our girls, literally wrapping them up with bubble wrap. And the older they get, they get addicted to perfection,” Saujani said. “They start giving up before they even try. Everything in their life, whether it’s their personal life or their professional life, is basically stagnated by perfectionism.”
Boys, on the other hand, are raised to be fearless, to take risks and to fail, said Saujani. In turn, they raise their hand for promotions they’re not qualified for, launch startups with abandon and so much more. When they get fired, they often have the mentality that it’s the company’s loss, whereas women see it as a gut punch. In fact, studies show that women won’t even apply for jobs if they don’t check off every qualification that is listed.
To raise girls who are brave but not perfect, it’s important to remember that bravery is like a muscle and is something that you can continue to build over time. For mothers of young girls, it’s important to encourage daughters to use their hands, to get dirty, to take risks and to use technology. If they’re in gymnastics class and are struggling, keep them in the class and let them experience what it’s like to just be okay. “Part of success is knowing what it’s like to not be the best and to struggle a little bit,” she said.
Saujani’s own transition from striving for perfection to working towards being brave happened shortly after she ran for Congress in 2010 and lost.
While the loss was difficult, when she woke up the next day, she realized that she wasn’t broken.
“That was the beginning of living my life brave, not perfect,” she said. The shift in thinking inspired her to start a movement to teach young girls to code when she didn’t even know how to code. “That’s the power of brave not perfect—when you start to realize we’ve been playing by the rules, we’ve been coloring in the lines, and it’s not going so well,” Saujani said.