Episode 54 – Reshma Saujani, Founder of Girls Who Code

Reshma Saujani is a pretty incredible person. First, she is the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a programmer looks like and does. And as if that wasn’t enough, she is also the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress, a viral TED speaker, and the author of a new book, “Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder.”

Today, Reshma and Jessica take us inside what it looks like to be a little less perfect (even forgoing spellcheck!) to make room for the things that matter. In addition, Reshma shares some incredible advice for raising daughters who aren’t afraid to fail.


Jessica: Hey, it’s Jessica Honegger, founder of the socially conscious fashion brand Noonday Collection. And this is the Going Scared podcast where we cover all things, social impact, entrepreneurship, and courage. Today, we are joined by the incredible Reshma Saujani. She is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, which is a national nonprofit organization working to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a programmer looks like and does. Amelie asked for Legos as a seventh grader, and I was so thrilled. So we covered some of that today. How can we raise girls who are interested in science and math and close that gender gap?

In 2010, Reshma was the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. And se just released a new book, Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder. As you can tell, we are kindred spirits, and I can’t wait for you to give this show a listen.

Jessica: So, you ran for Congress in 2010, which I just don’t think there is a whole lot more bravery that you can get. So, running for political office in America. So, I wanna hear the story behind your story. What led you into politics?

Reshma: Well, my parents came here as refugees from Uganda, and essentially, in the 1970s, Idi Amin the dictator, had kind of expelled all of the Ugandan Asians from the country. They had like 90 days to leave the country or they’d be shot on spot. And so, my entire family was displaced. And so, my parents were fortunate to be 2 of 1000 refugees who got status to come to the U.S.

And my father would often like sit me on his lap and he would read to me about like Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi. And I was so moved by their experience. You know what I mean? In coming here, no family, not knowing the language, having to start up all over again. And I wanted to make sure that no other community was persecuted that way. So, from a young age, I think that combined with hearing these inspirational stories about these civic leaders and public servants, basically, from the time that I could talk or walk, I was like, “I wanna be a public servant.” Like, “I wanna change the world.” And I think so much of it was because of the way that I was raised and just seeing the impact on my family.

Jessica: That is such an untold story to what happened to Asian Ugandans.

Reshma: Yeah. The Last King of Scotland was a great movie about that, about Idi Amin.

Jessica: Wow. And where did your parents move to when they came to America?

Reshma: So, they ended up in Chicago, Illinois, and they built a life for themselves. And my father changed his name from Mukund to Mike because he got an email from a recruiter who was … and he wasn’t getting any jobs. And even though he was a trained engineer, he was working as a machinist in a plant. And a recruiter basically said to him, “Well, maybe you should change your name to a more American name.” And that’s how my dad went from being Mukund to Mike.

And yeah, I mean, my parents love this country, and I love this country, and they’re so grateful for its saving their life and for giving them a chance and getting their children a chance to kind of achieve the American dream.

Jessica: Wow. Did your parents speak Luganda?

Reshma: Swahili.

Jessica: Swahili, OK.

Reshma: So yeah, they speak a little Swahili. They’re also North Indians. So basically, the Indians were brought over in the 1900s to build the railroads from Kampala to Mombasa. So, they are originally from Gujarat. So, we speak Gujarati at home and then my parents are fluent in Swahili.

Jessica: Wow. I travel to Uganda a lot, and I’m leaving for India in three weeks. So…

Reshma: Oh my God.

Jessica: Yeah, so I’m so fascinated but I haven’t actually gotten to know many Indians in Uganda. Gosh, I’ve read parts of your book, but…

Reshma: Yeah, there’s a large kind of Asian community in Africa. I mean, even remember, Mahatma Gandhi got his start in South Africa. That’s where he literally learned a lot about kind of nonviolence. And so, there’s a huge, huge, huge Indian population that was in Africa. And now because a lot of people were either expelled or left, there’s a large kind of Uganda, Asian American population here in the U.S. That’s like a whole other book.


The First Indian American Woman to Run for Congress


Jessica: It is. I know. I’m like, OK, I can’t camp out here too long, although, gosh, I would love to. But you were the first Indian American to run for Congress, is that right?

Reshma: Indian American woman. Yeah. It’s kind of crazy, but I was. I was the first Indian American woman to run for United States Congress. Now, we have Pramila from Washington and we have some amazing other women who are running and who will run.

Jessica: Wow. What did that distinction mean to you? Did that drive any of you wanting to run?

Reshma: You know, I always wanted to serve. So, I don’t think I wanted to be the first Indian American woman. In many ways I feel like I learned that while I was running. I’m like, “What? I’m the first, that’s crazy.” But I did feel like as a woman of color and as someone who had a lot of Chutzpah, right, that it was a barrier that I wanted to break down for others. I really believe in this idea of like, you cannot be what you cannot see. And like, if I were to run and win and be in the halls of the United States Congress and other girls who were like me would too feel like they had a shot as well. Because even though I’d been obsessed with politics and being a public servant, I never saw anyone who looked like me, and I never really thought that I had a shot or a chance because there weren’t people who were like me there. And I think a lot of little girls feel that way from different cultures and different backgrounds that don’t have representation in Washington.

“Even though I’d been obsessed with politics and being a public servant, I never saw anyone who looked like me, and I never really thought that I had a shot or a chance because there weren’t people who were like me there. And I think a lot of little girls feel that way from different cultures and different backgrounds that don’t have representation in Washington.” Reshma Saujani

Jessica: Yeah, absolutely. So, you cannot be what you cannot see. And yet you didn’t have anyone that you saw. Who were some of those women that catalyzed you? Or did you have women that catalyzed you?

Reshma: I mean, I love Hillary Clinton. I’ve always loved her. I started working on campaigns when I was about 18. I got a chance to intern in the White House. And I got a chance to go see her speak in the Rose Garden, and she was giving a speech about children and I was like, “Who is this woman? She’s amazing.” And I kind of fell in love with her and watched her career, worked in her senate campaign, worked on both her presidential campaigns and got to know her. She invested in me and my leadership. But you know, more so than that, I think, just as a strong woman who’s trying to break barriers. I think just watching the way Hillary kind of like dusts off that pantsuit and like keeps going and just, you know what I mean? Like, she gets punched in the face every single day, but she keeps going. And I think, for a lot of us, we need to see women who are able to do that. And I certainly feel like I watched her and learned from her resiliency and bravery.

Jessica: Absolutely. So, from politics to coding. Not a journey that you hear about often. So, tell us a little bit about how your experience running for office led you to start Girls Who Code.

Reshma: Yeah, because … look, I was terrified of math and science growing up. Even though I had two engineer parents. I swear, like, my father fixed Choo Choo trains. I had no idea what he did. I always thought that because math didn’t come easily to me, and I talk a lot about this in my book, Brave, Not Perfect, that I have this kind of fixed mindset that you are either good at something or bad at something. And I got it in my head that I wasn’t good at math. And you know, my journey to creating Girls Who Code was less about coming at it from a passion or love for coding and more about the fact that I knew that these jobs created economic opportunity, right, for girls like me.

I don’t know about you. I’ve had a job since I was 12. I’ve worked everywhere from like dog walking to Baskin-Robbins to retail. And when my father would talk to me about what I should do in my life, he talked about it from the chance of like, “Be a doctor, be a lawyer, be an engineer because those jobs pay really well, and your entire life will change.” And I knew—and seeing it through my campaign that, technology was starting to be this huge industry, and there were all these companies that were coming to New York City but we weren’t teaching our kids, and we certainly weren’t teaching our girls.

So, my passion about the topic really came from being an activist and came from the perspective of economic opportunity and creating economic opportunity for girls and for women.

“Technology was starting to be this huge industry, and there were all these companies that were coming to New York City but we weren’t teaching our kids, and we certainly weren’t teaching our girls. So, my passion [for Girls Who Code] really came from being an activist and came from the perspective of economic opportunity and creating economic opportunity for girls and for women.” Reshma Saujani


Giving Girls Space to Be Imperfect


Jessica: Can you speak a little bit about the root of the issue? Because I grew up and my verbal scores on my SATs were like triple that of my math. And so, I did have this sense that like “I’m not good at math.” I had an older brother and he actually is brilliant, and he went on to get a chemical engineering degree. And I did have that sort of stereotypical, “I’m a verbal girl, I’m not a math girl.” Is that where it all starts and what’s it like now, today?

Reshma: You’re right about this. I mean, look, I think at age 30 months, girls will build very low structures that have a story with them when they’re building blocks and boys just kind of build high and they just crush them down. And I think from a young age, girls are protected and coddled, whether it’s in the playground or in the classroom.

I tell the story about the CS teacher in my book, Brad, who will say, you know what? He’s teaching his kids how to build network cables. If the boys come to him and the cable is wrong, he’ll just take out a pair of scissors and cut it and be like, “Nope, do it again.” He can’t do that for girls. For girls, he has to be like, “OK, you did this part right, now do that part of over,” but he has to give them some amount of praise and some amount of basically patting them on the back because, if not, they’ll take it personally. And I think so much of that again, is the way that we’re raised.

And the thing about math is it’s challenging. It’s challenging for you, and I’m sure it was challenging for your brother, right? But you may have felt like immediately because it didn’t come to you right away, “I’m not good at it.” Whereas, because he’s been raised from the time he was 30 months old to sit with challenge, the fact that it may not have come “easily” to him didn’t deter him from trying and trying again and trying again and trying again.

See, boys are much more comfortable with imperfection than girls are, right? Because again, from the time that we are babies, literally, we are protected from failure and rejection, and we are applauded, saluted. You know what I mean? Praised for being perfect.

Jessica: Right. What are some of those things that we can do as parents? I’m a parent of three kids. I’ve got two boys and a girl, and my girl is in the seventh grade, and she asked for like a giant Lego set for Christmas, and I was so happy. I was like, “Yes.” And it was expensive, and I was like, “We’re doing this.” Like, “You still wanna do this in the seventh grade? We’re doing this.” What are some of those things that as parents we can do to acknowledge the stereotype and help our kids overcome that?

Reshma: Yeah, I mean, I think the first thing is let them tinker, let them take things apart, let them get really dirty. You know, my son is four, and today, I was taking him to school and his lips are chapped and I’m like, “You look like a mess.” You know what I mean? His hair is all greasy. He’s like my little pig pen. You know? And when I see his friends that are girls, their moms are like—the minute squeezy spills on them—their moms are running to their diaper bag to clean them up. Their hairs are in perfect bows, they’re in matching outfits. God forbid their lips are chapped. But you know, we are constantly fixing and coddling and—you know what I’m saying?—our girls. We just don’t do that for our boys.

And think about that. If you were fixed and prodded over from the time that you were 3, by the time you’re 13 you’re a mess. So, I think the first thing is just let your girls be, let them get really dirty, let them…

“Let [girls] tinker, let them take things apart, let them get really dirty…. We are constantly fixing and coddling our girls. We just don’t do that for our boys. And think about that. If you were fixed and prodded over from the time that you were 3, by the time you’re 13 you’re a mess. So, I think the first thing is just let your girls be, let them get really dirty.” Reshma Saujani on how to empower girls to embrace STEM subjects.

And then the second thing is, and I often hear this story, which is that girls will get frustrated and then they’ll walk away from something. And again, because we wanna protect them, we let them walk away. So, let them sit with the challenge. And that means putting them in something that you know they’re not good at. So, let’s just say your daughter sucks at gymnastics. Can’t do a cartwheel to save her life. She will never be coordinated. She will always be bad at it. Take her to gymnastics. Do not pull her out so you can find her something she excels at. Because I think that that used to be the way that we thought about parenting and parenting books, right? “I’m gonna build confidence in girls.” But by building confidence in girls, you basically put them into like a cocoon rap, you know what I mean? In a bubble wrap where we protected them so much that the minute they had any kind of rejection or fear or failure, they fell apart.

And so, we have to get them on trouble with being a B. Just being okay.

Jessica: Right. Just being OK. It’s challenging because you tend to gravitate towards those things that you are good at and then you want to build upon those things. But what you’re saying is maybe your girls aren’t gonna gravitate towards these certain things, but push them there anyway.

Reshma: Yeah, I mean, think about this, I’m sure with your partner or the men in your life, like my husband just sometimes will just—he likes to play tennis. He’s not great at it. You know, he’s not Andre Agassi, but he just likes tennis. And so, he goes. But do you notice for us, I mean, do you do something that you’re not good at? No. You almost convince yourself that you like something just because you’re good at it and that you don’t like something that you’re not good at, but it’s less about whether you like it or you don’t like it and more about you think you’re good at it, or you’re bad at it.


Empowering Girls Who Code


Jessica: So, tell us a little bit about Girls Who Code. So, you see this need when you’re out running for office. How did you go about building an organization to address this issue?

Reshma: Yeah. So, I’m on the campaign trail, I see this gap, I lose. And I basically say, “All right, I’m not going back to the private sector. You know, I wanna make a difference. And then even if I’m not gonna be elected, like what are all the things that I saw on the campaign trail that I feel like I could make a difference on?”

And I decide that it’s coding. So, I take a job actually working in government, and I don’t know about you, but I always have like a side hustle. So, I always have like a job and then the thing that I’m working on. And so, Girls Who Code kind of became my side hustle. And every day I would kind of do a little something on it. So, it was either write a business plan or have a meeting with someone who was a CS teacher or who had been doing research on girls’ participation.

And I basically took two years to learn everything I possibly could about computer science, about girls, about the current interventions, and to think about it like, “If you were gonna make a difference on this, what could you do?” And then I came up with this idea of essentially doing what first was an eight-week summer program for free for rising juniors and seniors that we would embed inside a technology company. And that became Girls Who Code. And that was in 2012.

Jessica: Wow. So, tell us about the various programs now that Girls Who Code offers.

Reshma: So many. OK. So, we run these free Summer Immersion Programs. We call them SIPs. And we have 81 of those in like 12 different cities across the country. And essentially, we’ll take 20 girls who are rising juniors and seniors in high school and we’ll embed them in a classroom, in a technology company. So, they’re at Facebook, at Adobe, at AT&T, at Microsoft, at BlackRock, at Sephora, you name it. Any company in America that is looking for more women to hire is using our Summer Immersion Program and our program is essentially to build their tech talent pipeline.

Then we have afterschool clubs. We have almost 6,000 of those in all 50 states. And those are for third graders on up. And they happen kind of afterschool in community centers and churches. And those clubs are now happening globally too. We’re launching them in Canada, UK, and India. We then run these two-week immersive programs called Campus. We run what we call Alumni Loops, which essentially, we’re building these organizations on college campuses for women who have already declared CS as a major to make sure that they don’t drop out.

So, we do lots of awesome things. And we’ve reached almost 185,000 students across the country this year.

Jessica: Wow. And who are you trying to target? I mean, aside from girls in your programs and how could a girl go about getting involved?

Reshma: Yeah, I mean, look, half our girls are kind of under the poverty line. Half our girls are black and Latina, but we are living in a time where American classrooms have never been more segregated than they are today. And you see this with what’s happening in our country. We’re just not talking to people who don’t look like us. And so, when you walk into a Girls Who Code classroom, it honestly feels like American classrooms should. There’s girls that are trans, that are gay, or black, or Latina, or mixed, or Muslim. Like girls from all walks of life, and they’re learning from each other, and they’re building products together and they’re changing the world together. And that idea of sisterhood, of bringing together kind of girls again, from all walks of life is really important to us. Like it’s like our mantra.


Join the Noonday Sisterhood!


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Y’all, we have hardly ever run promotions like this, and now really is the time to join. So, if you want more details, just head over to noondaycollection.com\goingscared. Thanks a lot. Back to the conversation.


Coding to Close the Gender Gap


Jessica: It’s an important mantra. And you say that the gender gap is actually getting worse in computing. Why is that? Because I feel like there’s organizations like yours that are really moving it forward and making a difference. What is contributing to this gap getting bigger?

Reshma: Well, I should say if we don’t do anything about it it’s gonna get worse. I do think that Girls Who Code is making an impact, and we’re seeing the change happen. We did a report with Mckinsey that we feel like by 2027 we can close the gender gap in entry-level jobs in technology. But I think one of the things that’s interesting about this industry is that you used to be very close to parity. So, if you walked into a gaming camp with your daughter, for example, in the 1980s, it would have been half boys, half girls. If you walk into any computer science classroom today in the country, it’s gonna be less than 20% girls. So, at a time where technology has become everything about the way that we live and work, we essentially have been pushing girls aside. Like it doesn’t make sense.

“At a time where technology has become everything about the way that we live and work, we essentially have been pushing girls away. Like it doesn’t make sense.” Reshma Saujani

And I think so much of that has to do with culture. You know, like in the ’80s you kind of saw the birth of the brogrammer, you know, you started seeing movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. When we started creating this myth that to be a programmer you kind of had to be like a white dude in a hoodie sitting in a basement somewhere. And so, girls looked at these images and they’re like, “Oh, that’s not for me. That’s not cool,” you know, and we literally turned them off.

And so now, we’re trying to turn them back on. That’s so much of the work that we do. So, we take this perspective that girls wanna change the world, and we show them how coding is relevant to the thing that they care about. Maybe they care about climate change. Maybe they care about fighting against bullying. Maybe they care about … you know what I mean? Making sure that there’s a cure to cancer, right? We find the thing that deeply moves them and then teach them how to code to solve that problem. And we found that going about it that way, girls get excited.

“Girls wanna change the world, and we show them how coding is relevant to the thing that they care about…. We find the thing that deeply moves them and then teach them how to code to solve that problem. And we found that going about it that way, girls get excited.” Reshma Saujani on how Girls Who Code is bringing more women into technology.

Jessica: Wow. It’s so interesting because I wouldn’t naturally connect coding with some of those things that you just mentioned, but that is the key, isn’t it?

Reshma: I know. It’s true. It makes sense, right?

Jessica: Yeah, totally.

Reshma: It’s really dangerous though, right? When you think about how quickly we’re automating jobs. Go to the airport now, and there’s basically robots taking care of everything. And think about also like the effects of artificial intelligence and data sets and that they don’t include women and people of color.

And so, it’s dangerous now that we’re not in the room. And you know, it’s less of why aren’t girls there, but it’s more like we gotta do something about it, and we got to do something about it fast because things are changing rapidly.

Jessica: Right. And we have to adapt. And especially create opportunity for those that have been left out.


Being Bold Enough to Fail


So, you wrote a book on top of everything else. And I absolutely love the title because my book is called Imperfect Courage and yours is called Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder. And I’m curious why this book and why now?

Reshma: Yeah. So, you know, in 2016, I got asked to do a Ted talk. And you know, I told you I loved my first match when I was 13. I’ve spent most of my life fighting on issues that affect women and girls. And when I looked at the state of women in 2016, nothing had really changed, right? We were still less than 20% in Congress, less than 20% in Fortune 500 Companies. You know, you weren’t seeing a plethora of female venture capitalists or startup entrepreneurs. Things weren’t changing.

And so, I wanted to like take a look at my girls and to see like if the answer lied within them. And you know, there was a story that a teacher told me about how when she was teaching a student to code, that during the first week when girls were learning coding for the very first time, that a student would call the teacher over and she’d say, “I don’t know what code to write.” And the teacher would look at the computer screen and she’d just see a blank text editor. So, if she didn’t know any better, she would’ve thought, “Well, oh gosh, this student spent 20 minutes just staring at the screen. She didn’t, didn’t even try.” But when the teacher pressed “Undo” a few times, she saw that her student wrote code but then deleted it. So, she didn’t wanna show the teacher her work because it wasn’t perfect. And I heard the story over and over and over again.

And so, I came up with this, kind of, idea that like, we are raising our girls to be perfect and we’re raising our boys to be brave. And that if you started to teach girls to be imperfect, if you started to teach girls and women to be brave, what would the world look like? And I thought the world would be more joyful, that we would have less regrets, that we would get out of those toxic relationships and you know what I mean? Start those companies. And we get cut off in line at the Starbucks we would tell them what we really thought. And not only that though, basically, because of all this toxic perfectionism, we have this bravery deficit in leadership. And that if we could teach girls to be brave, we would close that gap.

“We are raising our girls to be perfect and we’re raising our boys to be brave … If you started to teach girls to be imperfect, if you started to teach girls and women to be brave … the world would be more joyful.” Reshma Saujani

So, I give this talk, and that was all I wanted to do was give a talk. I wasn’t intending to write a book or do much more than that. And it went viral and millions of people watched it. And I would just get like literally, hundreds of emails or texts or DMs from stats, from moms, from women, from girls all across the world saying, “Your talk moved me. And this is my brave, not perfect story.”

And so, I spent about a couple of years, two years really, writing this book and saying, “Is there something there? Do I believe that I can come up with a philosophy about living a brave, not perfect life and rewire women to live their best life?” And I found out that the answer is yes. And so, my baby is gonna be born on February 5th and I’m really excited. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about something since I launched Girls Who Code.

Jessica: It’s awesome. It’s so awesome. And I know for the book, you interviewed hundreds of girls and women from around the country and you shared your vulnerability as well from your own stories. Aside from imperfection, what are some of the other clear themes that just jumped out at you?

Reshma: Well, I think it doesn’t matter whether you live in Arkansas or you live in New York City, we all basically suffer from perfectionism. Some of us don’t think we’re even perfectionists, but we really are, right? And sometimes when we’re younger it’s worse than when we’re older. And I think the older we get, the more we’re able to kind of let go of this. I found that across the board is causing a lot of anxiety and unhappiness. Women are two times more depressed than men, because they’re trying to live this perfect life and that it’s holding us back.


How to Live Brave, Not Perfect


And I’ve created this brave, not perfect challenge. The third thing I learned is that you can unlearn it. There are real strategies that you could employ in your life that can make you more brave. And that doesn’t mean you’re one and done. You will fall on and off the wagon, but when you practice imperfection when you do something that you suck at, when you take one step, all of these things will wire you to be more brave. And when you are more brave, you are more joyful.

Jessica: So, let’s talk a little bit about some of those strategies and what are some that you have had to employ? Because I know we often teach what we need to learn. So, what’s been your journey of overcoming perfectionism?

Reshma: Well, I think the first thing is about practicing imperfection. So, like I always say like send an email with a typo in it. And people gasp, like, “No, I can’t do that.” But I’m like, “Just try it.” Like if you probably get an email from me, there’s definitely a typo in it. And I made a ton of spelling mistakes and you will read it and be like, “OK,” but you won’t think I’m less credible. And I think women really think that if they send an email with a typo in it, they will be taken less seriously. And the amount of time that we spend writing and rewriting and writing and rewriting and writing and rewriting when we could be doing something else is crazy. Right?

And you know, I spoke at a bookseller conference last week and for them, the big thing was like, “Oh my God, I could never put an out of office email even when I’m sick because then people won’t take me seriously as a small business owner.” So, for that, it was “Put an out of office email up.” You know what I mean? Practice not being perfect.

The second thing I’ve really been getting deep into is this idea, again, we talked about this, about doing something you suck at. I don’t know how to swim. I am terrified of cold water. And I have been taking up surfing. And not to get good at it. I will never be good at surfing, you know. And every time I’m on that beach, Jessica, I’m like crying, right? Like I don’t wanna go in. I’m frightened. I’m with all this like stuff in my belly an hour before I’m about to go. And most of the time I don’t get up on that surfboard. And for me, this kind of Type-A ambitious straight-A student, that’s hard. Right? But it feels so good and freeing and liberating to do something that you suck at. And again, not for the sake of getting better.

And the third thing to talk about was like, just start. Like just take one step. I know so many of us like look at our apartment that probably needs to be like thoroughly cleaned and were like, “I can’t even do it.” Like, “I just can’t do it.” And I’m like, “You know what? Clean one shelf. Just one shelf. Clean one shelf.” You wanna start a podcast, right? Guess what? When you go out to dinner with your friends next week, just tell one person that you’re thinking about starting a podcast. Like just take one step.

Jessica: Yes. You cannot finish what you don’t begin. So, you at least have to take the first step. OK. So as an ambitious Type-A woman, you just described yourself that way. That was not me. That was you. What was the writing process like for you?

Reshma: Oh my God. Painful. I mean, writing my Ted talk was probably one of the most painful things that I’d ever done. I didn’t have a lot of time to get it there. Every bone in my body just wanted to give the same speech I’ve always given. I hate it when like the perfect idea doesn’t come to me right away. And I didn’t get it. I didn’t get this philosophy until pretty much right before I had to give the speech. And then writing the book was just again excruciating. Right? And I think figuring out exactly what I wanted to say, what order it was gonna come in having real tactics and strategies for people to walk away with all of it. And again, because I will say to you, probably 100 times, I’m not an author. Even though I’ve written like three books. And I still have that in my kind of imposter syndrome in my head that I’m not an author.

Jessica: What do you think the correlation is between practicing vulnerability and embracing this life of imperfection? And where have you really had to lean into vulnerability, where that’s been hard for you?


Gaining Strength in Vulnerability


Reshma: I mean, definitely it was writing this book. I grew up in a family where you didn’t cry. We didn’t do a lot of hugs and I love you’s. And I think that, for me, being emotional, being honest about how I was feeling and asking for help was always really, really, really hard. And I think that I had a series of fertility challenges, I had five miscarriages. Three of them before I had my son. And I lived kind of five years in many ways, in a lot of pain, but not able to talk about it. Right? I would get bad news from the doctor and literally have to give a speech in front of 1000 people for Girls Who Code. And I felt like I couldn’t say no. Right?

So, I got so used to hiding my feelings and hiding the things that were happening in my life. And it wasn’t until I had my first child and that night, I felt happy for the first time in a long time that I realized how much weight that I was carrying on my shoulders. And I started talking about it. And this was … I think we’ve gotten so much better about talking about fertility and challenges, and it’s hard for so many of us. But back then, it was a little bit of a risk. And I remember a reporter, we’d be having this conversation, and I would talk about it and then she just wouldn’t include it in the story. Right? And she probably thought she was helping me not, kind of, airing my most personal moments.

But I think that I’ve always been someone who … God never gives you more than you can handle. And I always felt like I could handle a lot. So, God gave me a lot. And I think part of that is because I do feel like this kind of deep sense of spirituality about sharing pain and sharing challenges because I want other people to learn from mine.

“God never gives you more than you can handle. And I always felt like I could handle a lot. So, God gave me a lot. And I think part of that is because I do feel like this kind of deep sense of spirituality about sharing pain and sharing challenges because I want other people to learn from mine.” Reshma Saujani

Jessica: I love this quote by Maya Angelo where she says, “There’s no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” And I’m curious, I mean, when I imagine even the life that your parents lived and being expelled from their homeland, has this opened up communication with your family that you didn’t have before as you have embraced being more vulnerable?

Reshma: I don’t know. It hasn’t, and it should. I think for them, when they came here they were probably in their late 20s, and I don’t think they felt the privilege to be able to kind of feel or to share or to grieve or to be. And so, I think, I was talking about this with someone else the other day, it’s like sometimes—again, if you take my hack on failure, which is like to grieve about it and move on, sometimes not talking about it is the only way that you deal. And I think for a lot of immigrant families, we have a lot of secrets, because people just don’t talk about what happened to them or how they felt because to do that is to live it again, and that’s too painful.

So, my mother, I remember, I was asked to do like one of those, “What does Reshma Saujani do on a Sunday in the New York Times“? And I was breastfeeding. And I basically said to the reporter like, “I’m happy, but the photo I want is of me breastfeeding because honestly, at this moment in my life, that’s all I do.” And it was a real challenge for them, and they ended up posting the picture. And my mother wouldn’t talk to me for like six months because she was like, “How could you post a picture of you breastfeeding?” Because you know, for us in the Indian community, is like you do not put yourself out there like that. And so, I think they think I’m very strange about like airing all my business. You know what I mean? All the time.

Jessica: OK. So, this is a new way of life for you. Because, how old is your first child?

Reshma: He’s four. Almost four, in a week.

Jessica: So really, in the last four years, this life of I’m gonna embrace imperfection, I’m gonna embrace vulnerability,” what have been the benefits of that for you in your life?

Reshma: Yeah, I mean, I would say for me, I think I started after my campaign loss because, and I was actually thinking about this. I mean, I think I…

Jessica: Well, that’s huge.

Reshma: Yeah, because I think that that was the first time that something that I wanted didn’t work out. And it was such a public failure. Like when you lose for office, everybody knows. And is also harder for someone like me because people kept coming up to and being like, “Are you OK? I’m so sorry.” And I just hate when people feel sorry for me. Right? So that was hard. But also, like when I reflected back on that race from the way I wore my hair to how I dressed to like the memorization of my speech like I wasn’t me in the true sense of me. And so, I think that that is what kind of started this unraveling of the perfect Reshma.

And I took more risks and I said what I thought. Now, granted that that’s often gotten me in trouble, because sometimes I’m too open with exactly what I think. But it’s been really freeing. You know, I wrote this New York Times Op-Ed about Ivanka Trump and computer science education. And like that was a bold move. You know what I mean? To write an Op-Ed calling the administration out.

And I feel like I’m in a place in my life where I can do those things. I can speak truth to power, you know, I can be bold. And that doesn’t mean I don’t get in trouble for those or I don’t get reprimanded or I don’t pay a price, but I’m sure as hell not gonna live my life with regret and not and feel like I’m silenced.

“I feel like I’m in a place in my life where I can do those things. I can speak truth to power, you know, I can be bold. And that doesn’t mean I don’t get in trouble for those or I don’t get reprimanded or I don’t pay a price, but I’m sure as hell not gonna live my life with regret and not and feel like I’m silenced.” Reshma Saujani on being brave, not perfect.

Jessica: I feel like it really is about embracing that authentic self. And once we embrace that authentic self, we get to experience the joy of connection, being connected to ourselves, and then getting to experience connection with other people. And that is the fruit of embracing imperfection.

So, I’m glad we met now because I’m really into authenticity. So, I love it.

Reshma: I also don’t think you can live any other way. I actually think whether you’re trying to do anything in life, I don’t think people have a lot of tolerance for fakeness. I just don’t think they do. Especially in the way that people live on social media. So, it used to be like, “Oh, live authentically.” And that was in some ways brave. And I wonder if it’s just normal now.

Jessica: I think sometimes people can even pretend to be authentic though too. I think it takes a lot of work to really dig in and discover who you are and be willing to be that person no matter what environment that you’re in. I mean, I think that is brave.

Reshma: It’s not easy because we’ve been conditioned in such a way. And that’s what I mean. Like, in some ways I feel like it’s much easier for men, and they do live and feel and say authentically. Men have no problem telling you exactly what they think. You know what I mean? Whereas we’re always, “Oh, I’m sorry, do you mind if I…” Right? The amount of qualifiers that we say as women, just in a day. Like someone will bump into me and I’ll say sorry. Right? And so, a lot of that is like it’s reprogramming. And whether you’re a feminist or not doesn’t matter. Right? But could we still mess this up with our daughters now? And so that’s I think the challenging part.

Jessica: Yeah. Stop apologizing. Stop taking things personally. I think we’re so worried about offending people, we’re worried about getting offended ourselves and it is a different way to live. It’s like a level of surrender and surrendering your ego as well. But it’s freeing. It’s definitely freeing.


Reshma Saujani—Writing Scared


So, this is called the Going Scared podcast, and we define courage as being scared and just simply going anyway. And it’s all about leaving perfectionism behind and just taking those steps as you talked about earlier.

As someone who’s dedicated so much of yourself to freeing women from perfectionism so they can go, how are you going scared right now?

Reshma: I mean, I am going scared into releasing my book, and I’m terrified that the world won’t embrace it. I’m terrified that I’ve put all this work into it and like, it won’t be the thing that I want it so deeply to be. And at the same time, I’m terrified that it will be so amazing, and the moment will pass, and I won’t appreciate it because I’m waiting and wanting the next thing.

Jessica: Oh my gosh, yes. It’s hard. It was hard launching that book. I so relate to everything you just said.

Reshma: It’s crazy really, and you’re like, “Why am I doing that?”

Jessica: It is. I know. And in the middle of it, even though it hit Publishers Weekly, 24th bestselling book. And even then, though, it was still just like that push for more. I mean, I kind of wrote about my process honestly on Instagram. I was like, “I’m feeling entitlement.” Like, “I worked this hard so it should be doing this.” I did have a hard time to stop and appreciate what it was accomplishing. I’m just now, and I launched it, I don’t know, like six months ago, kind of like, “Wow, that was awesome.” You know. It’s just hard.

Reshma: I know. I know. Listen, even for me, for Girls Who Code, like…

Jessica: What are your hopes?

Reshma: I wanna live in the moment. Right? Like, I don’t need to win any awards, right? I want the book to move people, and I want it to change behavior. Right? But for myself, I haven’t worked so hard on something since I launched Girls Who Code. You know what I mean? From like baby to inception to like everything. Right? And it’s funny. It’s like that feeling that I had when I was launching Girls Who Code is like how I feel now. And it’s scary, right? And I just wanna enjoy it. I really just wanna enjoy it because I feel like sometimes, I’m just moving from one thing to the next thing and one thing to the next thing that I never could just sit and be like, ah. And I just said, “I wanna be present.”

Jessica: What do you think you can do? Like what helps you practice presence when you do have that tendency to just go onto the next thing?

Reshma: Oh, my conversations with myself and God at night. I mean meditation. I think, praying. I also think reminding myself when I get off the wagon, which I think it’s normal. I think I’m really self-aware, and I spend a lot of time working on myself. And so, I know what my tendencies are and where my weaknesses are. Everyone knows them who works with me? Because I’m honest about them. And so, yeah, I think it’s just a constant process.

Jessica: It is. Well, my hope for you is that you can appreciate the journey.

Reshma: Thank you.

Jessica: And I know you will have moments of deep appreciation. Is there one certain moment, like for me, I was like, “When I see it in the airport” or “when I see it here, that’ll be my moment.” Like, “I’m an author.” Or “I launched this book” or whatever. Do you have any sort of moments like that?

Reshma: Oh my God, I love going into airport bookstores and seeing my books. And it’s so funny because you’re walking and be like, “Do you have the Girls Who Code book?” And they’re like, “Yeah, you wrote it right?” Because like the only people who walk into like airport bookstores looking for like children’s coding books are authors. Yeah, it’s amazing, right? I mean, we are blessed. You know, I feel very blessed to do the thing that I love.

Jessica: Alright, so I think we all just got permission to not spellcheck. OK, I’m kidding a little bit, but it is interesting to think about not just constantly reworking, redoing until you feel like you’ve reached this place of perfect. If you guys listen to the podcast with my husband and I, you know that he is a One on the Enneagram, which is described as the perfectionist. And I interviewed someone a few months ago and came home and told him about it. And, one of the questions that we talked about asking if you’re a perfectionist is “is it good enough?” Instead of “is it perfect?” “is it good enough?” You guys, that’s transformed him. So, I’m going to leave you guys with that little nugget today.

If you want to keep up with Reshma, watch the hugely influential TED talk, order Brave, Not Perfect at her website, girlswhocode.com. Before we go, you guys, make sure you check out my book, Imperfect Courage. It covers so many of the themes that we specifically talked about today. And I would love for you to review and rate this podcast so that more people can have access to this conversation.

Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time. Let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.