Leadership and Management Division

Brave not Perfect: Distilling LMD's Virtual Book Club discussion

By Elizabeth Trudell posted 06-10-2019 21:46


Hello everyone.  My name is Alison Senkevitch and I am new member of SLA.  Janel, LMD Chair and leader for the recent Facebook group and webinar book discussion, asked me to write up a summary of the book and discussion. I hope you all find it useful and I look forward to getting to know more of you in SLA.

Brave, Not Perfect, by Reshma Saulani, examines why so few women are working in the tech industry. This question is timely and important, as the tech industry is growing fast. According to the 2019 IT Industry Outlook from CompTIA, a non-profit IT trade association, the global information technology industry is on pace to reach $5 trillion in 2019. Saulani has one answer as to why women are underrepresented in tech: from a young age, boys are praised when they take risks, and girls are encouraged to be perfect and steer clear of taking chances.  As boys and girls grow into men and women, these patterns and ways of perceiving their abilities only get stronger. Women stick to what they excel at, men are more willing to try something new.  Coding, and jobs in tech in general, are all about taking risks.    

In the first half of her book, Saulani examines how she took the journey from perfect to brave, by leaving a joyless job at a prestigious law firm (where her main goal was to fulfill the dreams her immigrant parents had for her and meet their definition of "success") and running for a local political office. Saulani lost the election, but she dared to fail and learned that she could "come out the other side" stronger and more resilient.  Saulani wanted to be of service in a big way. Instead of doing that through politics, she founded Girls Who Code, an organization that is working to close the gender gap in the tech industry.

In the second half of her book, Saulani outlines several strategies for each of us to make the journey from perfect to brave.  The first three are to build a bravery mindset, get caught trying, and nix the need to please.  People can cultivate a bravery mindset by making sure their own needs are met (sleep, exercise, general "me" time) and claiming the power of "yet" ("I'm not ready to take on that new project at work and ask for a promotion…yet…but I can make a plan to get ready").  People who aren't afraid to get caught trying are comfortable doing things they are not good at are comfortable asking for feedback, and don't let a little constructive criticism or rejection stop them from trying again.  And people who nix the need to please learn to trust their own instincts and not go along with what someone else suggests, even if they know that it isn't really what they want or need to do.  The last two strategies to make the journey from perfect to brave are to play for team brave and learn how to survive a big, fat failure.  People who play for team brave connect to other people authentically.  They admit their mistakes and struggles to others, and don't judge others harshly when they do the same.  And people who know how to survive a big, failure know how to throw a (short) pity party, but then move on to acknowledge, and even celebrate their failures, shake the failure off, and review, reassess, and realign.  They know how to thoughtfully and honestly examine what went wrong, but also what went right.

Of course, we are all not tech professionals in the SLA organization, and certainly not all women, but participants made several points in the Facebook group and virtual book discussion that showed how the book still resonated. Here are some of the questions posed by Janel, our discussion leader, as well as the points people brought up:

  • In the opening chapter, Rashma talks about how running for Congress was the first time she did anything that she wasn't positive she could succeed at. Have you ever shied away from challenges or opportunities because you feared that you would fail, look silly, or that it would take you outside of your comfort zone? 
    • The discussion around this point centered around how many people could be braver by applying for jobs that may be more of a "stretch." Dana B. and Janel K.  referenced research from Rashma's book-that women don't apply for a job unless they are 100% qualified, and men apply when they are 60% qualified.  Connie C. remembered a particular job seeker she heard of who got the job, even though he or she didn't quite meet all of the stated requirements). Potential employers may be willing to overlook stated job requirements if a job seeker is strong in most of the requirements and show that he/she is willing to work hard and learn. Alison S. looked at this question from the perspective of our profession as a whole.  It seems that many outside our profession have a very limited idea of our skills, but we really all should be brave by remembering that our skills are numerous and transferable.  We can take on projects that aren't "traditional librarian" projects and maybe a bit of a "stretch.".

One of the myths debunked in the book is the idea that "perfection is not the same as excellence." Even when we know that we can be excellent without being perfect, it's often hard to find the line.  Where is that line for you? 

    • Elizabeth T. talked about the project management principal of balancing quality, speed, and cost. We just need to make the best decision possible for each situation. I (Alison S) talked about how, as the director of a small public library, I knew that I didn't have the resources to have every possible (and perfect) program and service for my customers.  Instead, I needed to figure out what my particular community needed and offer a more limited and focused menu of strong programs and services.  Janel K. talked about how parenthood has changed the definition of perfection (we all know there is no such thing as a perfect parent).  Embracing failure has helped Janel focus less on being perfect so that she can do quality work, both in her personal and professional life. Dana B. talked about how letting go of "perfect" allows people to be more risk tolerant and Elizabeth T. talked about how we need to learn from each experience.  Dan B. touched on event planning and how it is impossible to have a perfect event (something always seems to happen that is outside of your control).

  • Have you gotten stuck in a cycle of rumination, worrying that you offended someone, or said the wrong thing? What would be the worst thing that could have happened, even if you did? 
    • I (Alison S.) related an experience from grad school, that taught me how important it is to not make assumptions that you offended someone. After one particular group assignment, I must have been acting mad because one of my group mates came up and asked if I was angry about our grade or if she had offended me by not "pulling her weight."  I assured her that I was happy with our grade and certainly thought she had done her share of work.  I was just preoccupied with something completely unrelated to school.  Dana B.  talked about how it must have taken courage for my classmate to approach me, and how she (Dana B.) is working on being more respectfully assertive.

 In chapter 7, Reshma explains how "getting caught trying" helps us build resilience to failure. What's one thing you can try – and maybe fail at – today. 

    • Elizabeth T. referenced the TED Radio Hour on NPR and the segment on failing as very relevant to our conversation and encourages all of us to listen to the podcast when we have time.


Alison Senkevitch