Growing up, I strove to be perfect, which meant I had to join the right clubs, be a good student, get into a good school. All of which are great things to strive for, but my mindset changed when I started working in the real world, with my first job at Emerson. I embraced a bravery mindset.
This was sparked by a TED Talk, that I watch repeatedly when I’m in need of inspiration and courage – by Reshma Saujani, a self-proclaimed failed politician and founder / CEO of Girls Who Code. In the 12 minute clip, she talks about how “we teach our girls to be perfect, but our boys to be brave," walking through scenarios of how society has programmed women to take the safer route, and to pick fail-proof careers.
In the bright new era of the 21st century, women are still a minority in careers that require resilience, grit and bravery – STEM fields, the boardroom, the government, and in armies.
Even though Reshma lost the NY Democratic Primary in 2010, her exposure to the classroom inspired her to create the most disruptive non-profit organization, Girls Who Code. An organization for encouraging young women to learn programming, and create solutions and applications to solve our world’s most intriguing problems.
During my first work assignment, I was visiting customers – burner and boiler manufacturers in the Midwest. It was exciting to see and learn from our end customers. I met with experts in the industry, traveled with and learned from our district sales managers and engineers along the way.
But, this opportunity intimidated me. I needed to be taken seriously by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) owners, engineers, and other staff – many of whom had 10-20+ years of industry experience. I was expected to represent the company - lead the conversations, understand the valve specs, know the competitive landscape, and speak in business terminology, all while knowing I just walked out of undergrad.
Engineering school had prepared me well for calculating dew point, solving Fourier Series proofs, even finding the right number of plates to install in a distillation column to fluctuate efficiency rates. I came from a world of theoretically perfect and textbook prescribed technical problems. I was trained to find the perfect answer, a simple number that solves the black box equation.
Yet, that’s not how the business world works. In this world, you live in gray matter. You are tasked with finding novel solutions for your customers, balancing curiosity with skepticism when using creativity and a tenacious approach to resolve their pain points.
So, for my first customer visit (being the engineering student that I still was), I prepared as much as I could. I knew all my prompt questions and had my question script memorized. I remember being in my hotel room in Kansas City, the night before an important customer visit, working through my usual pump up routine – listening to Run the World (Girls) by Beyoncé on loop. My personal anthem.
I woke up the next morning, still a bit nervous. The district sales manager responsible for that territory met me in the lobby, and we embarked on our drive to the customer. He sensed my anxious behavior, as I sifted through my papers. I was still writing down specific National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) code definitions - you know, just in case I would ever need to know a specific article number of code 86. Spoiler alert: the customer didn’t care. He said, “Don’t worry. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you and that you’re smart. If there is anything you need, I have your back in there.”
Phew. I took a sigh of relief. All it took was one person’s support and encouragement to believe that I could do a good job with this. I collected my papers and stacked them back into my bag.
I walked into the customer facility, ready to field questions and learn as much as I could about customer needs. I introduced myself, set the tone for the meeting, asked for a group tour, then sat down for a business discussion. I questioned them on competitive products and surprised the director of operations when I knew more about their final assembly products than they did. I trusted my gut and ran with the opportunity to lead. The visit was a success.
Reshma Saujani didn’t let her imperfections stop her. She used her failure as a stepping stone to another type of success. When I got beyond the need to be perfect, to know every article number per code in the NFPA handbook, that is when I started to progress. No one is born being brave; it is developed over time and through experiences. It’s time we promote a bravery mindset for young women, so that we can all aim high and achieve goals that would’ve previously intimidated us.
I would really like to learn more about you and your experiences! When did you learn to be brave? How do you plan to be brave in the future? Check out Reshma Saujani's TED talk at the bottom of the page and share your stories and comments below!
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