Book review: Brave not Perfect

After a lovely, long August away I am back; feeling refreshed, and ready to return to my counselling practice. Everyone knows a good book is as essential to that holiday feeling as a cocktail on the beach. And I got lucky with my summer read: Brave Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani.

I found the writing frictionless, the author generous with her own experiences, and the topic fascinating and relevant.

Saujani draws on piles of research, stating that girls suffer through their need to be seen as perfect, polished and beyond the risk of failure. Whereas boys are brought up to take risks and see setbacks as part of the bigger picture.

But what we know about success is that it usually comes after a series of failures. Attempting something, and discovering you’re terrible at it, is an awful feeling, but a great learning experience. And most people’s careers are a case of warmer, cooler, warmer until they figure out what works for them.

But Reshma believes fear of failure means girls are missing out on fulfilling their potential. They cannot relinquish the facade of the glossy, winning woman, to embrace the messy reality of trying and failing. Whereas boys have no such constraints.

You don’t have to look too hard to see what’s exacerbating this fear of failure. Girls are bombarded by images of success in magazines and social media. Always portraying a glowing Boss Girl, but never digging deep enough to unearth the struggle behind the seemingly effortless success. It’s all, #WinningAtLife and #Blessed, and never #FailureBeforeASuccess or Brave Not Perfect. For a realistic account of success, and the hard graft that goes into it, I recommend If In Doubt Wash Your Hair by designer Anya Hindmarch.

Perhaps perfectionism has had its day?

But things are changing, albeit slowly. Elizabeth Day’s podcast and book How to Fail, focuses on the belly flops of the famous. They share their biggest disappointments in life, from getting fired to infertility. She shines a light on the many mis-steps, and hurts, that live in the shadow of success.

And as I scoured the web, looking for organisations that encourages boldness in young girls, I came across Brighton Girls’. Their ethos is, “Be kind and bold.” And they encourage their students to take risks with courage and confidence. It’s a welcome change in a sea of schools that promote achievement and attainment at all costs, but show little insight into how to get there beyond exams. It allows pupils to be brave not perfect.

Becoming a bit bolder everyday

For everyone else, outside of Brighton and beyond school age, Reshma believes we too can all become a little bolder.

Every day, in big or little ways, we must consciously practise courage. This may mean speaking up, applying for promotion or having a difficult conversation.

If you want more tips or support on becoming brave not perfect, then Reshma’s website is a great place to start. It contains plenty of resources to help you develop your courage muscles and embrace risk taking.

I’d love to hear your experiences of embracing failure and moving forward in life. Please do comment below.

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