‘Real rewards come from trying something new, being brave and taking the next big step.’
Wise words from Assistant Head of Sixth Form, Dr Ian Taylor, and ones that resonated with me. On more than one occasion in my school and university years, I held back simply because I was afraid I would fail. I thought I might not achieve that perfect outcome. I was convinced others were better than me. Who knows what I have missed out on as a result?
Unfortunately, this fear of failure and drive for perfection is something that can hold women, in particular, back from pursuing their dreams and ambitions. I have previously worked as a graduate recruiter and spent a lot of time on campus talking to students about future opportunities. Female undergraduates were almost always focused on the assessment process - the online psychometric tests and what they had to score to pass was a frequent question. They were worried about failing, about not being good enough. This held them back from filling out the application form, let alone completing the assessment. Meanwhile, the conversation with their male friends focused on the nature of the job and what the future might hold. They very rarely asked about how they would get there; they assumed they would. It was very frustrating to watch all that potential talent walk away.
I have recently dipped into Reshma Saujani’s book ‘Brave, Not Perfect’ which unpicks this issue. Saujani is the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organisation in the US working to close the gender gap in technology. She observes that whilst boys are taught to be brave, girls are taught to be perfect. As a result, girls may be less likely to take risks in case they get it wrong or they fall short of perfection. Conversely, boys are less concerned about jumping into the unknown. Saujani goes on to say how it is possible to be excellent without being perfect and that they are not the same thing. Excellence is a way of being and thinking, of taking pride in the effort we put into something rather than a target to either hit or miss. It is a different, and surely more productive way of interpreting that old adage ‘practice makes perfect.’
Schools, of course, are key influencers in the attitudes of young people. Teachers are committed to equipping each girl with the toolkit to be the best she can be and our Old Girls freely give their time to inspire and inform, be that as part of ThinkTank talks or Careers Events. The girls, too, give each other support, most likely unconsciously and, most importantly, unconditionally. Community support of this sort, particularly in an all - girls environment, encourages the bravery Saujani refers to and being brave opens us up to opportunity. It is reassuring to see this in our potential new Year 7 joiners too. Recently, we invited in our potential scholars for various assessments and interviews. Without doubt they were all talented but they were also very brave – they were willing to give it a go.
So as the new year gets underway, be brave and try something new. Take a moment to encourage each other and worry less about getting it 100% right. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, best be ‘caught trying’, than not at all.
Mrs Emma Judge, Director of Admissions and Marketing