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Reshma Saujani Explains The Problem Of Perfectionism And Our Need To Be Brave

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Mar. 22 2016, Published 3:30 a.m. ET

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On average, women encounter higher levels of stress than men. Research shows perfectionism, is one of the biggest sources of stress facing women today.

According to a recent survey conducted by Yahoo and Seventeen Magazine, 74 percent of young women between the ages of 13 and 21 feel pressure to be perfect. Women are shaped to strive, achieve, and maintain excellence to the point where it’s unrealistic and unhealthy, negatively impacting both our confidence and ability to take risks.

Although this false sense of perfection remains a problem that plagues all people, as women it weighs on us across the board, affecting the choices we make each day at work, at home, with friends, and especially at school.

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In her latest TED talk, “Teach girls bravery, not perfection” Reshma Saujani, explains how to overcome this pressure.

The quest for flawlessness holds us back from taking action – especially the ones out of our zone of comfort. Speaking up, changing careers, trying something new, even running for Congress as Saujani shares, if we don’t feel it’s exactly right, we might never even try.

“We’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave,” shares Saujani. There are two very different realities for boys and girls, “Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. We’re taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then just jump off headfirst. And by the time they’re adults, whether they’re negotiating a raise or even asking someone out on a date, they’re habituated to take risk after risk. They’re rewarded for it.” It’s within this divide that the negative impacts of perfectionism make way for women, and the positive effects of bravery in men take hold.  

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The problem is, the need to be perfect lies hand in hand with confidence. To strive for perfection is to be over cautious, reserved, and calculated. These are also all qualities linked with lower confidence. One of the most disappointing, well known statistics is the internal report Hewlett Packard conducted on men and women on the job search. Men will easily apply for a job if they meet only 60 percent of the qualification, while women often will only apply if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications. Disappointing because this is all too familiar to us all. If that’s not a wake up call, I don’t know what is. 

What is evident is that this problem is beyond personal views, politics, or ideologies – this imperfect problem impacts us as a society, economy, country, and beyond.

“Women are being left behind,” Saujani says. “And it means our economy is being left behind on all the innovation and problems women would solve if they were socialized to be brave instead of socialized to be perfect.” 

Her examples and stories are heartbreaking because the evidence is so obvious – our difference in treatment among genders is skewed, and the impact is dire. 

Yet, what is most important to remember is we can also reverse the problem, as Saujani has already began herself through her famous organization, Girls Who Code.  Founded in 2012, Saujani founded the organization with the goal of having one million women in computer science by 2020.

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Through over 80 partnerships with companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and more, she helps stir excitement around computer science among young women, teaching them the bravery they need to succeed simultaneously in the tech world and as growing women. As demanded through coding, a skill that requires both perseverance and trial and error – an entire career that demands imperfection.

With mentors at hand, Saujani and her organization have found a way to deal with incoming students who are fearful of making mistakes, not making the right codes, not being perfect – by forming a safe community and sisterhood. Student by student, from an initial count of 20 girls in the Girls Who Code’s first year to this year, when the program will teach 40,000 girls around the country. Talk about massive, long lasting social change.

Saujani ends by pleading with every woman to, “be comfortable with imperfection, because when we teach girls to be imperfect, and we help them leverage it, we will build a movement of young women who are brave and who will build a better world for themselves and for each and every one of us.”  

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