Brave Not Perfect: Taking Bolder Risks
With social media permeating our daily lives at every turn, things can seem pretty flipping perfect out there. In this Instagram world where photos are filtered and flawless, and family and friends seem to always be having the time of their lives, it’s easier than ever to fall into the “perfect” trap.
In her book, Brave, Not Perfect, Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, says women are far more affected by this “perfection affliction” than men, and contends that this drive to do things “right or not at all” can be a huge barrier to success.
In her TED Talk (on which her book is based,) Saujani says this conditioning starts young. She makes the case that, early on, girls are taught to “smile pretty,” “be nice,” “get all A’s,” and generally play it safe in life – which causes them to hold back if they don’t feel they can perform “perfectly.” She points out that boys, on the other hand, are conditioned and encouraged to play “rough and tough,” “swing high”, and generally dive head first into life – making them more comfortable with failure and risk-taking.
“We’re raising our girls to be perfect, and our boys to be brave,” Saujani laments three minutes into her TED talk. “Some people worry about our federal deficit, but I worry about our bravery deficit. We’re losing out because we’re not raising our girls to be brave.”
Saujani contends that this “bravery deficit” is why women have, historically, been so underrepresented in STEM, C-Suites, boardrooms and Congress. I’ve certainly seen this “bravery deficit” play out in my coaching practice – from the types of jobs my clients will consider, to the degree to which they feel they’ll be successful in a particular job, to the interview process itself. When clients start to fall into this paralyzing “perfect” trap, I work with them to move forward – even though the steps may feel messy, imperfect, and a bit risky.
“The socialization of perfection has caused us to take less risks in our careers,” Saujani explains, “…it means our economy is being left behind on all the innovation and problems women would solve if they were socialized to be brave.”
Here are some of my favorite tips from Brave, Not Perfect –starting with the following list of myth busting reminders adapted from the book. I encourage you to stick this on your fridge or vision board and read it often:
- Failure is allowed
- Perfect does not equal happy
- Things won’t fall apart if I’m not perfect.
- Perfection does not equal excellence
- I can make mistakes and still be successful
Saujani offers valuable strategies for building a “Bravery Mindset,” including the following three tips:
- Look For Your Ledge – “Chances are there’s at least one challenge, one change, one dream quietly calling out to you that you’re afraid to step up to,” Saujani says. “I call that ledge “the scary thing” – the thing that, if we could do it, it would make a major change in our lives.” Saujani encourages us to figure out what our particular ledge/”scary thing” is and move towards it.
- Get Caught Trying – Saujani says that the best way to become fearless is to walk into “the fire of fear” and get used to challenging yourself, as often as possible, to take risks. As the saying goes, better to have tried and failed than not tried at all.
- Get Comfortable with Failure/ Rejection – In the start-up innovation world, there’s a well-known saying, “Fail early, fail often.” Entrepreneurs actually seek out rejection in order to learn and improve their product or service in a speedy and efficient manner. In her TED Talk, Saujani points out that “in Silicon Valley, no one even takes you seriously unless you’ve had two failed start-ups.” Learning that failure is just feedback, can help you adjust course and develop perseverance – an important attribute when moving forward with bravery.
Saujani reminds us that, by facing our fears, allowing imperfection, finding courage, and taking risks, we open ourselves up to new growth and success that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. I encourage you to let go of “perfect” and find the courage to go for what you really want in life.
Leveraging imperfection, taking more risks, and working to build our courage will help us build a better world for ourselves, and for society as a whole. So, here’s to moving forward with bravery rather than perfectionism into a braver new world!