There is nothing more I fear than failure as a student.
Failure to meet my teacher’s carefully outlined expectations. Failure to earn satisfactory grades. Failure to be correct. Failure to keep calm and composed. Failure to be perfect. I’ve grappled with the fear of these failures for as long as I can remember.
Whenever a teacher asks a question to the class, I’ve deliberately avoided the teacher’s gaze. Afraid of my words being met with a curt “No” from the teacher, I have never raised my hand once in class. In Socratic seminars and group discussions, my hands have gone clammy and my throat has grown dry. Scared that my words will come crashing out of my mouth in an incoherent jumble, I’ve spoken just enough to salvage my grade – and not one word more. For presentations, I’ve never dared to take a creative leap that might threaten my grade. Fixated on the maintenance of my perfect GPA, I’ve always clung to the usual power points and posters over skits and videos.
Watching Reshma Saujani’s TED Talk “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection” made me realize that I’m not alone in my fears. Many women of all different backgrounds and experiences share a fear of failure. They’ve hesitated at opportunities, afraid that they don’t have the skills to fulfill them. They’ve shied away from diving into risks, afraid of the possible consequences.
This fear, however, isn’t a symptom of our lack of confidence but the implicit bias and stereotypes created by our society. As females, we’ve been taught all our lives that we must strive for perfection, even if it comes at the cost of taking risks. While our male counterparts are urged to boldly follow their instincts and take the reins of a situation, we’re nudged towards following the status quo.
However, life’s not about striving for perfection – it’s about creating change, cultivating progress, and leaping out of comfort zones. In a culture where women are encouraged to choose perfection over bravery, women fall behind. While the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world are dropping out of school to grow their start-ups, female innovators are compelled to focus on graduating and securing a steady job. While the Warren Buffets are busy making billions by investing in the riskiest of ventures, female investors are intimidated into sticking to safe decisions.
Life’s not about striving for perfection – it’s about creating change, cultivating progress, and leaping out of comfort zones.
It’s not to say that all women have chosen perfection over bravery. Saujani herself founded Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that has taught tens of thousands of students across the world to write programs, in the midst of her failed political campaigns. Slammed by rejections, fashion designer Vera Wang boldly leap-frogged from one career to the next, shifting from an Olympic-hopeful figure skater to a magazine editor to one of the most famous bridal designers in the world. Activist and entrepreneur Mikaila Ulmer created a lemonade business, appeared on Shark Tank, and advocated for saving honeybee populations, despite only being 11.
Women can take risks and succeed, but we need to encourage more to have the confidence to do it. In order to truly empower women and achieve gender equality, we must teach our girls to have courage in their beliefs and aspirations. We must urge them to follow their inklings of hope and their wildest passions to fight for a chance of success. That’s why I support LiveYourDream.org.
ALICE AO — Born and raised in metro Atlanta, Alice is a high school student still searching for her place in the world. She enjoys reading all types of literature, writing short stories, solving math problems, and watching Gilmore Girls with her mom. Above all, she hopes that her words will help mold society into a more equal, inclusive, and accepting community.