Girls Who Code founder and CEO Reshma Saujani’s new book, Brave, Not Perfect: How to Fail More, Care Less, and Live Bolder (Currency, Feb.), was born out of her 2016 TED talk, “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection.” Her insights as the daughter of high-achieving Indian immigrants and from her work with teenage girls to close the gender gap in technology clearly resonated with those raising girls; her talk has been viewed more than four million times on TED’s website.
“Girls are afraid of not getting it right, of not being perfect,” Saujani asserted during the talk. To prove her point, Saujani related a story that every Girls Who Code instructor has told her: during the first week of classes, at least one student will complain of not knowing how to begin writing code.
“The teacher will look at her screen, and she’ll see a blank text editor,” Saujani says. “If she didn’t know any better, she’d think that her student spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen. But if she presses ‘undo’ a few times, she’ll see that her student wrote code and then deleted it. She tried, she came close, but she didn’t get it exactly right. Instead of showing the progress that she made, she’d rather show nothing at all. Perfection or bust.
“I hear a version of that story all the time in every single different industry,” Saujani says. Following her TED talk, women of all ages have contacted her to say that they were inspired to face their own fear of failure head-on. After receiving such positive feedback, Saujani decided to write Brave, Not Perfect, which explores how girls traditionally have been socialized to play it safe, to be quiet and polite, while boys are expected to speak up, play rough, and get dirty.
“Boys are taught to be brave, while girls are taught to be perfect,” Saujani argues. “As a result, girls grow up to be women who are afraid to fail.” Such a mentality can lead to a lifetime of disappointment and regret. But Saujani doesn’t just end it at that: Brave, Not Perfect also provides readers with solutions. Her strategies for creating a bravery mindset include tips on how to feel more comfortable with imperfection and successfully move beyond failure. That’s something she did herself, when she left a prestigious job in the financial sector to become the first Indian-American woman to run for U.S. Congress. “I lost, but I did not die,” says Saujani, who received only 19% of the votes cast in the 2010 Democratic primary in the 14th Congressional District of New York. “It inspired me to found Girls Who Code, when I myself didn’t even know how to code.” Acknowledging that times are changing—and so are women, as demonstrated by such recent movements as the Women’s March and #MeToo—Saujani insists, “We are in the throes of a bravery revolution—and I want to ignite it with my book.”
While Brave, Not Perfect focuses on women, Saujani insists that the book contains truths for everybody, including indie booksellers. “For a bookseller, bravery means being authentic,” she says. “Perfectionism stands in the way of our power and our happiness. Let yourself be guided by your passion. If we can have the courage to do the things that are most important to us, not only will we live a more joyful life, but also a life where we are reaching the highest levels of power.”
See Saujani’s opening keynote on Wednesday, January 23, 7:45–9 a.m., in Ballroom B/C, Upper West ACC.