The TED Talk All Girls Need to Hear

Perfectionism is a trait capable of encompassing ambition, hard-work, and a hunger for challenge. I say this on account of personal experience. We convince ourselves the positive qualities mask the negative aspects of perfectionism, allowing us to justify the associated behaviors. A TED talk given by Reshma Saujuni, however, exposes why perfectionism is not a strength in disguise. Rather, it may be the weakness that has been holding girls back all along. 

Image Credit: Alexander Dummer

Saujani speaks about an organization she founded, Girls Who Code, in an effort to inspire young girls to be brave rather than perfect. When I came across this talk last year, I had been vacillating between pursuing a computational emphasis or a Bachelor of Arts in Cognitive Science. My indecision was rooted in the fear of enduring the complex nature of computer science and math classes. She recounts an important occurrence in the classroom setting while young girls were learning to code for the first time. 

“The teacher will look at her screen, and she'll see a blank text editor … 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” (Saujani).

It is not often the case that such a small idea has left such a profound impact in all aspects of my life. I had the instant realization that I was painstakingly guilty of the very behavior described above. When given a task, my mind expects perfection on the first try. Take, for example, writing an essay. Rather than repeatedly revising the first idea that comes to mind, I will sit and wait for that idea to feel perfect before writing anything down. However, this habit is both inefficient and unrealistic. It’s as though girls have come to believe that anything besides perfection makes us permanent failures by default. This idea is illustrated when Saujani contrasts the behavior of students at the University of Columbia.

“When the guys are struggling with an assignment, they'll come in and they'll say, ‘Professor, there's something wrong with my code.’ The girls will come in and say, ‘Professor, there's something wrong with me’”(Saujani).

Since listening to this talk, I have worked to recondition myself to be brave enough to try without obsessing over the end result. The implications in this talk extend far beyond the computer science classroom. It takes bravery to endure the discomfit of imperfection. However, on the other side of our fear to fail lives the achievement of our dreams. 

Image Credit: Chevanon Photography