Reshma Saujani says that her best thinking is done when she goes for a run. Those thoughts have led to her founding Girls Who Code and the Marshall Plan for Moms; writing the best-selling Brave, Not Perfect and her new book, Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work; becoming the first Indian-American woman to run for the U.S. Congress; and being included on the Fortune 40 Under 40 list.
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Coming from a culture, where, she says, “there’s a lot of body shaming,” Reshma started to run “as a way to look like the other Indian girls at my temple.” It soon became something that she loved and that she now describes as being “100% about my mind. If I’m feeling stressed out, or if I’m working on a speech or working through an idea, the first thing I do is lace up my sneakers, put on my Bollywood or my hip hop music, and go.”
When Reshma ran a marathon, it was because she’d just had a “really bad breakup” and needed a goal and something to look forward to. “It was very much about healing and it was amazing,” she recalls. It also made an impact on her far greater than recovering from a broken romance.
She hit the wall at mile 17. “My feet were bleeding; I had half a contact that was stuck in my eye; my lower back felt like it had a knife in it, but you know, it was the first time I felt in a long time that I was really living in the moment. I loved hitting the wall,” she says, “because I knew at that moment, if I had quit, if I had walked, I would quit or walk for the rest of my life and if I could get through that pain, I could get through anything.”
For Reshma, the marathon was “the beginning of my journey. In many ways it was the first time I really stuck with it, and I started really building that resiliency.” Resiliency is something that typically isn’t taught to girls. She describes a common scenario: “On the playground, we’ll tell our boys to climb to the top of the monkey bars and just jump, but with our girls, it’s always like, ‘Be careful, honey; don’t swing too high’ and that physical wanting to protect our girls extends into emotional protection.”
She goes on, “And so we never really learn how to be brave, and that means that we do learn how to give up before we even try because we gravitate towards things that we’re good at. We get addicted to that perfection; we get addicted to people being like, ‘That’s so great; you’re such a good girl,’ and the consequences of that are enormous on every aspect of our life.” One of the greatest consequences is that “If we’re waiting to be perfect to lead, if we’re waiting to be perfect to live, we’re never going to close the leadership gap.”
Learning how to deal with failure is something else that girls need to learn. Reshma has “this deep sense that I was put on this earth to be able to fight for women and girls and for our most vulnerable.” That led to her involvement in politics and eventually to running for Congress. It didn’t go well. “I ran against this 18-year incumbent, got my ass kicked, like it wasn’t even close. I’m broke; I’m humiliated; I’ve pissed off the entire Democratic establishment. But the best thing about that race was I realized, wow, it didn’t break me.”
“What I’ve learned through lots of failure,” she says, “is you’ve got to put a time limit on it. I think that giving a period of time to grieve and then moving on is something that we don’t teach enough and that we need to.” Reshma believes that failure can be productive when it leaves us feeling that we have something to prove. “I didn’t win that Congressional race. I had the compassion and the integrity to be in Congress to make a difference, and they didn’t pick me. And so now it’s not going to stop me from making a difference in the world. I’ve had that on my shoulder and I think in many ways that has been a gift, because it’s driven me.”
She acknowledges that it can be hard to speak up and try to make a difference, especially for women, who are brought up to care so much about the opinions of others. But, she says, “We have to find that conviction and that strength and then we have to just keep asking, ‘Why do I care what they think about me?’ You know, it goes back to the story I told you about why I started to run and about the judgment about my weight from my community and from my family and how that led me to make choices that I wasn’t making for myself. I was making them for them. I always say we all want to be like Cardi B.; it’s like, no f’s given. We have to get to a place where we don’t care.”
Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work
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“Thank you” to Reshma. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.