Brave Not Perfect

“Bravery in our culture right now has become a privilege for men.”

Reshma Saujani, Founder and Chief Executive of Girls Who Code

What is perfection? 




  • the state or quality of being perfect.
  • a person or thing considered to be perfect.
  • the action or process of improving something until it is faultless.
Why is today’s generation fixated on achieving perfection in whatever they do (especially young women) ?

According to Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Girls Who Code and author of the international bestseller Brave not Perfect, well-meaning adults often teach girls from an early age to be polite, ladylike, and accommodating.

Girls are seen as something flimsy that needs protecting. Meanwhile, boys are guerdoned for showing up and showing out; whoever climbs the highest, plays the hardest, jumps the farthest is celebrated as superior. It buttresses the idea that girls should be prudent and boys should take risks.

Watching Reshma Saujani’s Ted Talk and reading her book Brave Not Perfect, struck a major chord for me.

It helped me realise that the gnawing thought of wanting to have a perfect Instagram feed, wanting to get straight A’s, wanting to have it all together isn’t just my personal maladaptation to the world; it is a universal experience for so many girls.

Reshma says, “As girls, we were taught to play it safe. Well-meaning parents and teachers praised us for being quiet and polite, urged us to be careful so we didn’t get hurt, and steered us to activities at which we could shine. 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.”

Girls avoid challenges, try to look smart, give up easily if they can’t be perfect on the first try, and see added effort as futile.Meanwhile, young boys who are told to keep trying tend to develop a growth mindset –  the belief that ability can be developed. They embrace challenges, persist during setbacks, and believe that with more effort or repetitions, they can nail the task.

Perfection or Bust

Don’t we all sometimes feel crushed by the weight of our own expectations? Since it has been ingrained in our minds since childhood to strive for perfection, failure is simply not an option. However, perfection makes us miserable. 

Perfectionism can make us feel unhappy with our life. It can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-harm. Eventually, it can also lead one to stop trying to succeed and discourage you from trying to achieve your goals.

An HP report found that men will apply for a job if they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women will apply only if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications.

From this, it is evident that day after day women have been socialized to aspire to perfection, and this has made them overly cautious. This has conditioned women to defer their dreams and always let the plague of perfection overpower them.

In her Ted Talk, Reshma Saujani mentions a rather peturbing story. Lev Brie, a coding professor at Columbia University found that when boys struggled with coding, they would say, “Professor, there is something wrong with my code.” But when girls struggled, they would say, “Professor, there is something wrong with me.”

Moreover, Saujani observed in the Girls Who Code classes, girls were more likely to erase their code and show none of their work, than risk making a mistake and thereby adopting imperfection. Saujani calls this perfection or bust.

Reshma Saujani, Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code at her Ted Talk which garnered an overwhelming response and led to her book- Brave Not Perfect

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one out of every four women will experience severe depression in her lifetime. A seminal study done in 2009 at the University of Pennsylvania called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” showed that although women’s lives have improved over the past 35 years in terms of increased opportunities, higher wages, and freedom from domestic drudgery via technological advancements, their happiness has declined.

When we’re pursuing perfection, we can end up in jobs, relations and life situations we don’t necessarily want to be in. One of the trademarks of happiness is having close, meaningful connections with others. But keeping up a simulation of having it all together and being perfect in everything keeps us isolated, because it keeps us from forging genuine,honest and deep relationships where we can entirely be ourselves and feel respected and acknowledged exactly as we are.

“If we could unlearn perfectionism, we’ll be happier.”

Reshma Saujani, founder and chief executive of Girls Who Code
Luckily, there is an antidote to perfection- Bravery!

Women have been socialized to be people pleasers, to not rock the boat or challenge the status quo, to be perfect, and this socialization has downstream consequences. Bravery requires something different: a growth mindset, resilience, and susceptibility and self-compassion.

Bravery isn’t about jumping out of an airplane or slaying a dragon. Bravery is a muscle. It’s about going through life with a mindset where in every decision you face, you make the brave choice, or take the bolder path.

Bravery trumps Perfection. Always.

No one is born brave. But if we adopt an everyday bravery as a practice, every one of us can learn to be brave enough to achieve our greatest dreams — maybe that’s to  start-up a company, or write a book, or maybe it’s just to live without the fear of judgement looming over your head all the time.                      .

As Saujani writes in her book, bravery is a muscle and it requires consistent, daily flexing.

Reshma spent years obsessing over her desire to go to Yale Law School, applying and getting rejected three times in a row. She was the first Indian-American woman to run for Congress, and she lost miserably. She ran again, and lost again. Amidst these failures, she noticed something: While campaigning for New York City public advocate, she saw public-school computer rooms packed with boys, not girls. Despite having no tech experience, she ditched law and started teaching girls to code. Saujani saw her life change the moment she embraced failure instead of fearing it.
Is it possible for a girl to develop her bravery muscle in a world that will give her both overt and subtle messages that perfection, youth and beauty are paramount? 

Seems quite unlikely. So, it is upon you to go tell every young woman you know be it your cousin or your niece that they are accepted and praised not for being perfect but for being courageous and strong. And that they will be appreciated just as much if they choose the braver path.

As Saujani mentioned in her Ted Talk, “For any nation’s economy to grow, to truly innovate, we cannot leave behind half our population. We have to socialize girls to be comfortable with imperfection, and we’ve got to do it NOW.”

Let us all pledge to embrace imperfection and living a authentic and daring life #ichoosefailureoverperfection #authenticallyme

“The bravery deficit is why women are underrepresented in STEM, in C-suites, in boardrooms, in Congress, and pretty much everywhere you look”

Reshma Saujani, founder and chief executive of Girls Who Code


Adapted from Brave not Perfect by Reshma Saujani || Let’s Teach Girls To Be Brave, Not Perfect || How to Be Brave || What Reshma Saujani’s ‘Brave Not Perfect’ Taught Me About Courage ||

Krisha Khandelwal


Krisha is a freshman in high school. She is an International Chess Player and a trained Indian Classical Singer. She is extremely passionate about STEM, Writing and Reading, and advocates actively for mental health awareness. She is the co-founder of “Project Injoy”, a non-profit which empowers young children and helps them unlock their true potential.

Published by Krisha Khandelwal

Founder at Let's Defeat Bullying | Co-Founder at Project Injoy

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