[Insert YOUR Name Here],
“You’ve beaten yourself up enough by this point. Now it’s time to show compassion and let yourself off the hook. What worthy efforts and actions did you take that need to be acknowledged. What are you proud of having done? The key to self-forgiveness is focusing on what you did right and remembering that no one – not even you – is perfect." - Reshma Saujani in her book Brave, Not Perfect.
I have this letter written to myself on a chalkboard in my office. I don’t think Reshma Saujani could have written it any better, so I didn’t even try to tweak it. I just stole her words and put them on display for me to read every day.
Reshma is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization working to close the gender gap in technology while teaching girls confidence and bravery through coding. She is disrupting the industry by giving girls the opportunity and resources to learn a skill predominately dominated by men. And you know what’s funny, she isn’t a coder… She didn’t even start in the technology industry. She was in law & politics!
Here’s what gets me, girls are trained for perfection. We grow up being told how pretty we are, how polite we are, how sweet we are, how good we are in school. We get chastised for being loud, dirty, or breaking the rules. Boys on the other hand…are just boys. When they are loud – “he’s all boy”. When they are rude – “he’s a typical boy”. When they get dirty – “boys will be boys”. When they fall down and fail – “don’t cry, man up!”
Do you know why this stigma bothers me? Reshma says it best -
“We go from trying to be perfect students and daughters to perfect professionals, perfect girlfriends, perfect wives, and perfect mommies, hitting the marks we’re supposed to and wondering why we’re overwhelmed, frustrated, and unhappy. Something is just missing. We did everything right, so what went wrong?”
This is my life. I earned good grades in school. I went to college. I married after getting my degree. I worked hard and got a great high paying job, I bought a house, I had a 401K, I had a baby. I did everything right, so what went wrong? Why am I sad? Why do I feel incompetent? Why do I feel like I’m not enough for this world?
I’ve always had these feelings, but they seemed to quadruple after I became a mom. Reshma asks, “Where along the way did we trade in our confidence and courage for approval and acceptance? And why?” I can’t answer this question, but it’s something I work on in my therapy sessions.
“We hold up these larger-than-life women as role models with the goal of empowerment, but for many girls it lands as crushing pressure to excel in everything. We may be saying ‘You can do and be anything’, but they hear ‘You HAVE to do and be everything.’”
NAILED IT RESHMA! I know I’m using a lot of quotes here, but I just can’t say it better. When it came to the decision for whether I would go back to work or not after having Nora, “you can have it all” rang in my head. But what if I can’t? What if my physical and mental body can’t have it all? What if I don’t feel comfortable pumping milk at work? What if my postpartum depression is so debilitating I can’t think about anything beyond the next hour, or I get so overwhelmed I break down in tears? Does that mean I’m not good enough? No Mamma, it doesn’t mean that. It means you are brave. You are aware of your body and of your emotions. You are making the right decision for you and your family.
“Bravery is every woman who went back to school or to work after her kids were born, and every woman who chose not to. It’s any woman who had the guts to shatter the illusion that she has it all together and ask for help”.
I try to make a conscious effort these days to not ingrain this “perfection mentality” onto Nora. I try to let her fail at things, but encourage her to keep trying. I try to let her cry and feel her emotions, but tell her she is strong. I try to let her get dirty playing outside, and her choose who she wants to give “hugs and kisses” to.
I try to keep my own negative thoughts in check – like “My fat butt shouldn’t eat that cake.” or “Gosh I’m so ugly without mascara”. She is so impressionable even at this young age – I know I was when I saw my mom struggling to love herself. It’s not easy. It’s really hard, and I think those thoughts, but I try to keep them out of her ears.
But, as Reshma says it best,
“It’s time to stop pursuing perfection and start chasing bravery instead.”