Perfectionism is not at all what it’s cracked up to be, says Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code (and Brand Save honoree at Brand Genius’ 2018 gala). In fact, the onetime Congressional candidate encourages women to embrace failure and make mistakes. Here, Reshma explains why making an effort may be just enough to get you on the right path.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
I'm the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit closing the gender gap in technology, and the author of the international bestseller Brave, Not Perfect. I'm obsessed with helping women live their best lives — letting go of toxic perfectionism and fear of failure so we can find joy.
How did you get to where you are today?
I got where I am today through failure quite frankly. I spent my whole life trying to be perfect... going to the "right" schools, working in the "right" jobs. I had succeeded in being "perfect," on the outside but inside I was miserable. So one day I finally quit and decided to follow my dream and run for U.S. Congress. I lost the race miserably but it was the best 10 months of my life, and more importantly, it put me on the path to founding Girls Who Code.
What pivotal moments did you face along the way?
“Knowing that I could survive a failure was a pivotal moment and allowed me to start being brave in my life.”
When I lost the race, I had a defining realization. Was I broke? Yes. Humiliated? Definitely. But I wasn't broken. Knowing that I could survive a failure was a pivotal moment and allowed me to start being brave in my life. I founded a non-profit to teach girls to code when I myself don't even code because I saw the gender gap in technology firsthand when I visited schools during my campaign and knew this was an issue we had to solve. I never would have had the confidence to do that before... I would have been too afraid of not doing it perfectly.
What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today?
In many ways, it's never been a better time to be a woman. We are the majority in college, the majority of breadwinners, and yet, when it comes to leadership things just aren't changing. The numbers are abysmal. So many of us are raised to be perfect, but the real world, especially places like Silicon Valley, rewards bravery. I believe we have this incredible Sisterhood, and we have to leverage it to encourage each other to take more risks in our lives.
What solutions or advice can you share?
Women should literally practice imperfection. It builds our resilience and makes us more comfortable going outside our comfort zone. I tell women to send an email with a typo in it. Or go to the grocery store without makeup on. Whatever makes you think "no way I can't do that!!!" ... do that.
Who helped you along your journey and how did they shape your thinking?
In 2008, Hillary Clinton had this line in her concession speech: just because I failed doesn't mean you shouldn't try too. I think that was an awakening for me, and it's a big reason I'm such an advocate for talking about our failures. When we try to project these perfect lives and make everything look easy, it can be really discouraging to people. I love seeing women like Michelle Obama or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez saying, "you know what? I'm not perfect, but I'm trying."
What one thing would you have done differently early in your career if you had the right bit of advice?
I wouldn't have worried so much about credentials. As the daughter of immigrants, I was so obsessed with pleasing my parents, appearing smart, getting straight A’s. But it didn't bring me joy.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing?
I'd be a Bollywood dancer. Seriously :)