Monday, July 22, 2019

Brave Girl, Strong Woman

Reshma Saujani BRAVE NOT PERFECT—Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder

I can remember the first time I felt brave as a girl. At the beginning of the school year, I was placed in a fifth-grade classroom on the bottom floor near the closest exit to the recess playground. This location was particularly perfect because I loved tetherball and could not wait to go outside and have a turn. Looking back, I realize I loved playing because it was something I was good at. Being one of the biggest girls in my class who had to wear the same style of clothes my brother did because I was thicker than most girls my age gave me an advantage. I felt strong when I played. I felt strong when I won.

The brave part of this story occurred when I was given a choice to leave this classroom a few months into the school year to attend a type of blended classroom on the other side of the school. I was given a tour of this unique learning space, and I can still hear their words, “It’s your choice, you decide.” It was a decision I needed to make, leaving my class rank on the tetherball poll or trying something new and frankly different. Being asked my perspective meant a lot to me as a young girl living in a rural community in a household with lots of brothers and sisters. I also knew it would take bravery for me to leave the familiar behind and try something new. Ultimately I did decide to make the change, and it was scary at the time, but I did it.

It was while reading Reshama Saujani’s book Brave Not Perfect, Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder these memories came flooding back. “If life were one long grade school, girls would rule the world” (p. 53). It’s true. Looking back at my fifth-grade class photo you can see in our faces. We would smile for the camera, but our chins were up, our eyes a blazing with a fierceness known to childhood. 

Then the unavoidable swimming PE class came into play late in our fifth-grade year. We were required to wear the school swimsuits, dress down in the locker room, and well be vulnerable. This is where my, what Saujani refers to as “inner critic,” showed up. “In girls, the drive to be perfect shows up and bravery shuts down somewhere around age eight right around the time when our inner critic shows up” (p. 19). Although I was just a few years older, it was then I began to notice my body shape and mannerisms were different than others. I began to compare myself not only to my immediate peers but the other students in the classroom.

I failed to pass the swimming test more than once. I was too focused on trying to have the perfect kick, stroke, or whatever to move from point A to point B in the water. Saujani said as girls, “We revise, rework, and refine to get things just right, often to the point of obsession or frustration that takes us out of the game (p. 30). I remember trying not to look stupid or even complain so my teacher would quickly move onto the next student. The irony of this is I have a brother the same age as me, and we were required to take the same class. He jumped, dived, and showed no fear and was frequently given praise and encouragement for his brave attempts in the water from the teacher Ugh!

This less than brave scenario is continuing to play out for many of us women even as we grow older. Although after reading Saujani’s book, I was left feeling more than inspired but also hopeful. She provides the reader with a “New View of Bravery” (p. 90) and reminds the reader, “Bravery takes so many different forms, and they’re all important and valuable. All bravery matters...We build our bravery muscles, one act at a time. Saujani continued, “Just as there is no one ‘right’ way to be brave, there is no one universal definition of success” (p. 100). “We do this by defining bravery on our terms one cause, one goal, one failure, one hot dog in a world of princesses at a time. We do it by cultivating bravery that lives inside each and every one of us” (p. 101).

Being who we are and what we want to be and become requires a daily type of bravery. “When we build our bravery muscles, we’re safe for real because we know we can handle whatever comes our way. Bravery doesn’t guarantee that everything will work out, just that we’ll be okay if it doesn’t. No matter what demons we face, bravery allows us to stand strong and keep going. Bravery--not perfection is the only true armor there is...Most of all, bravery sets us free” (p. 105).

So what does it take to be a brave girl in the world as women? Saujani offers 52 pages of well thought out strategies for each of us. Although for those of you who know me best, I am trying to go slow to go fast so here are my top ten for my personal growth towards rediscovering my inner fierceness or bravery.

The last challenge is out of page order and will be the hardest challenge for me. Before I participated in the required swim class, I loved my version of “swimming.” I spent the summers with my dad, and you couldn’t get me out of the country club pool. I still remember the thrill of the water hitting my body and the burst of the coldness that ingulfs you. I remember just feeling braver and stronger as I perfected my “dive” as I jumped into the deep end. As an adult, I’ve visited Hawaii, taken a cruise, and sat by many lakes and rivers. Unfortunately, I have yet to swim in a lake or the ocean or complete a lap in a pool. I am not terrified of the water, but I won’t get in.

Although something changed for me after reading Saujani’s book, I know I need to become a braver me without apology. For instance, If someone refers to me as “strong” again (like that’s a negative character trait?), I will have a different reaction, rather than silently coming unglued. I also feel braver and willing to begin to consider reinventing the same enthusiasm I had for water similar to when I was a girl. It will take small steps, but knowing I am not yet perfect, and I can build my bravery muscles with new attempts at challenges that scare me the most I can be brave, not perfect.

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