Most women are raised with a primary goal: to attain perfection. They want to be perfect in the workplace, and in their relationships. They want their homes to appear perfect, and their lives to follow a “perfect” blueprint. We see this blueprint laid out in magazines, on our television screens, and in the image that people project around us.
Reshma Saujani is crusading to change this perception and expectation for perfection. A successful woman in an industry dominated by men, she knows first-hand how damaging this expectation for the unattainable can be for women in all parts of society.
Brave, Not Perfect is the latest book from The New York Times bestselling author and Girls Who Code founder and CEO. Based on her viral TED Talk, Saujani's book explores how women are wired from childhood to pursue perfection and avoid failure — at all costs. It explains just how girlhood wiring continues to dictate thoughts and actions in their adult lives.
Saujani shares four key takeaways with us, from her latest page-turner.
1. We’re raising our girls all wrong.
One can argue that this expectation for perfection starts at the very beginning. Saujani suggests it's a key factor in why women struggle to attain perfection in adulthood.
“From a young age, girls are taught to play it safe, be nice, don’t get dirty. We rough and tumble boys so they grow up to be strong and fearless, but we coddle our girls because we think we have to protect them,” says Saujani.
There is definite truth to this. Boys are admonished for crying and showing emotions, while we tiptoe around an adolescent girl’s feelings and blame it on biology. This double standard has led to a defeatist attitude in women, and has perpetuated toxic masculinity in men.
“When girls are solely rewarded for perfection — and don’t build the resilience that comes with risk and failure — they get addicted to gold stars and straight A's," Saujani writes, in her book. "When something doesn’t come naturally to them, they give up before they even try.”
2. Perfection is making us miserable.
How often has a single interaction ruined your day — or your week? Have you ever deflected a genuine compliment with a self-deprecating statement?
Saujani tackles this sensitive issue in her book.
“Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. And it’s no wonder," she writes. "So many of us feel crushed under the weight of our own expectations. We run ourselves ragged trying to please everyone, all the time. We lose sleep ruminating about whether we may have offended someone, pass up opportunities that take us out of our comfort zones, and avoid rejection at all costs.”
Agonizing over sending that email to your department. Waking up to nightmares about forgetting to send that contract before you left the office. Deleting your dating apps after one day of no responses. These are all examples of what Saujani highlights as a very real problem.
3. The need for perfection is causing a leadership gap.
More often than not, women don’t fight for a seat at the table until they feel they have achieved perfection. The lack of women in leadership further discourages younger women to rise to the challenge. This creates a chain reaction that persists the leadership gap -- and then the cycle begins all over again.
“Studies show that women will only apply for a job when they meet 100 percent of the qualifications," writes Saujani. "For men, that number is 60 percent."
So why is it that men believe they are qualified and deserve to be leaders, while women hold themselves to an impossible standard? Reshma argues that it all comes back to that seed that is planted in our heads as little girls. This idea leads the reader into the larger theme of the book: Bravery.
Saujani echoes psychologist Carol Dweck to solidify her point. "If life was one long grade school, women would rule the world," she writes. "Well, it’s not. What moves the needle in the real world is bravery.”
4. Bravery is a mindset shift.
What does it mean to be brave? For some, courage can be getting out of bed every day. For others, it’s speaking up in a meeting, despite being interrupted each time that you do.
Saujani stresses that bravery is entirely dependent on your mindset, and she encourages her readers to pay attention to how and why they make decisions.
“Bravery isn’t what you think it is,” Saujani says. “It’s not slaying dragons or running into burning buildings. It’s about going through life with a mindset wherein every decision you face, you make the authentic choice, or take the bolder path.”
Making a bold decision can be daunting, especially because the fear of failure is hardwired into women from a young age. However, bravery is essential for growth in all aspects of your life. It opens doors, teaches hard lessons, and conquers life’s many challenges.
Saujani says it best: “When you let go of being perfect and learn to be brave, the world opens up to you — and that’s where you will find joy.”
And don’t we all deserve joy?
Andrea Boccia is speaker recruitment and relations coordinator at WSB. When she’s not sourcing the next great talent, she can be found obsessing over her dog Luna.