Fortune favours the bold, but bravery isn't always easy. We asked Reshma Saujani, author of Brave, Not Perfect, for her top tips to living fearlessly...
If you’re starting to consider your sun-lounger reads for the summer, do take a peek at Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani. The 43-year-old New Yorker’s funny, forthright call-to-arms urges us to be bolder in our decision making, push ourselves out of our comfort zone and ditch the obsession with perfectionism. The word ‘inspiring’ is bandied around far too easily, but this is the real deal.
Reshma’s philosophy is based on her own life experience. She quit a well-paid legal career to run for Congress in 2010, the first Indian-American woman to do so. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off - she lost horribly, despite being hotly tipped by the media. But Reshma dusted herself down and regrouped, launching Girls Who Code in 2012, an acclaimed non-profit that’s tackling the gender imbalance in tech industries. She’s since spoken at White House women’s summits, counts Hillary Clinton as a mentor, and has even given her own TED Talk – which boasts 4.6m views and counting. We went boldly forth and grabbed her for a chat.
How do you sum up your approach to bravery?
It’s about unlearning perfectionism and rewiring ourselves for bravery so we can lead more joyful lives. Girls are raised to be perfect while boys are raised to be brave, strong and fearless. Statistics show that women won’t apply for a job unless they meet 100% of the criteria, while men will apply with only 60% . I think the antidote to perfectionism is bravery, and it’s a practice we must constantly engage in. It’s not like, ‘Suddenly, I’m brave now’. It’s a muscle you have to keep exercising.
And it’s not necessarily about saying yes to every opportunity or every job is it? Because that’s pretty exhausting...
It’s actually the opposite. It’s about saying ‘no’ a lot more. It’s trying to put ourselves before others for a change. It’s about understanding how this toxic people-pleasing that women do is getting in the way of our own joy. So, it’s about practising imperfection. Something as simple as sending an email with a typo in it. You soon realise that you won’t get fired for that - in fact, no one even notices.
You’ve been travelling the world meeting women on your book tour. What kind of conversations are you having?
I’ve spoken to young girls and 80-year-old women and what’s so interesting is that we have this universal experience. Women say, I was raised to not fail and not take risks. And I meet lots of women stuck in jobs that they’re good at, but they don’t get satisfaction from.
Where do men come into this?
I’m urging men to advocate bravery in women. For example, men speak 25% more than women in business meetings – women can’t be brave if we can’t get a word in, right?! I also say to men, ‘When other men make a sexist comment, don’t expect women to always say something. There’s a place for you to speak up too, so don’t sit on the sidelines.’
What brave things have you personally done recently?
OK, here’s something little – I was flying home from a book tour, with my son, who’s four, and my husband. At check-in, I got upgraded but I let my husband have the seat. By the ninth episode of Paw Patrol with my son throwing M&Ms at me, I was exhausted, while my husband was relaxing with a glass of wine at the front. I thought, ‘What is wrong me?! Why did I have to be a martyr and give up my seat?’ And it was because I’d been working lots and felt I wasn’t being a good enough mum. Anyway, I asked my husband to swap back – I noticed my behaviour and modified it. And the biggest, brave thing I’ve been doing is getting in front of male audiences to talk about what bravery means for men. It’s scary to address an audience who you know aren’t that receptive to what you say – it’d be much easier to do the safe thing and stick to speaking to women.
Is summer a good time to be brave?
It is – you tend to be feeling happy and there are more daylight hours to be brave. How about trying something you think you suck at this summer? I’ve signed up to trapeze school because I’m scared of heights. I’ve found so many women don’t have hobbies – we don’t take any time for ourselves, so go find something. Take that time out for you, because you can’t be brave if you’re tired.
How bold are you when it comes to style?
When I was running for office, I always donned the suit, the slicked-back hair, the glasses. Professional women often think they have to put on a costume. But it’s fine to find your own style identity and not be afraid of being feminine. Now I’ve thrown out all my blazers and I love a floral dress and a red lip. If I’m happy with my outfit, I feel like I can show up in my bravest way.
Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani is out now.