In 2012, American lawyer and politician Reshma Saujani started a nonprofit called Girls Who Code. “Coding,” explains Saujani in her 2016 TED Talk, is “an endless process of trial and error, of trying to get the right command in the right place with sometimes just a semicolon making the difference between success and failure.
Code breaks and then it falls apart, and it often takes many, many tries until that magical moment when what you’re trying to build comes to life.
It requires perseverance. It requires imperfection. We immediately see in our program our girls’ fear of not getting it right, of not being perfect.
Every Girls Who Code teacher tells me the same story. During the first week, when the girls are learning how to code, a student will call her over and she’ll say, ‘I don’t know what code to write.’ The teacher will look at her screen, and she’ll see a blank text editor. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think that her student spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen.
But if she presses undo a few times, she’ll see that her student wrote code and then deleted it. She tried, she came close, but she didn’t get it exactly right. Instead of showing the progress that she made, she’d rather show nothing at all. Perfection or bust.”
If you are a woman born in the 20th century, you can probably relate to the phrase – perfection or bust. Three years ago, I was asked to participate in the inaugural year of SUE Talks. These TED-like talks were designed to inspire women to embrace their inner SUE by sharing stories of how they were Successful, Unstoppable, and Empowering. Since the launch in 2015, dozens of women have shared their SUE Talk on stage. Several of those talks, like two of the examples below, are examples from women who struggled for years to break the code that was written about how women leaders should behave. The third is from a woman who defied social stereotypes at an early age, and took code-breaking risks that paid off.
1. Surfing for Business, by Cheryl Goodman. In the summer of 2012, Cheryl Goodman nearly drowned. But in the moments after a set of rogue waves separated Goodman from her surfboard and threw her repeatedly to the ocean floor, her fear was not of dying – but of embarrassment.
2. There Once Was a Good Little Girl, by Michelle Bergquist. In this warm and witty recount, Bergquist shares her struggle to outgrow the childhood poem that shaped her self-image, even as her young husband recovered from a severe stroke.
3. Shooting for the Moon, by Kathy David. One month before her 16th birthday, Kathy David had a nervous breakdown. After a 3-week hospital recovery, she went home and demanded emancipation. David changed the trajectory of her life starting with a risky interview for a banking job for which she had no experience.
As we prepare the next generations of women to become our future leaders, what codes are we writing for them about what it means to be a woman, and which must they break in order to make progress?
Question: What self-limiting barriers have you had to break to become the best version of yourself?