Finding Your Bravery Now: A Conversation with Reshma Saujani

Reshma Saujani

Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and author of Brave, Not Perfect, recently spoke with the Conferences for Women, about perfectionism and bravery in a world turned upside down. The conversation has been edited for brevity.

CFW: You’ve talked about striving for perfection as an impediment to growth. In today’s extraordinary circumstances, perfection doesn’t seem remotely possible. But does it still play a role in how women are responding to the present moment?

Reshma Saujani: Perfectionism is totally at play. The coronavirus is very hard for perfectionists and extroverts. Extroverts for obvious reasons, and perfectionists want an A on everything. If you’re working from home, with kids and dogs in the background, it’s stressing you out. When perfectionists are dealing with uncertainty, it’s also really hard.

You have to honor what you’re feeling, but be brief. If you were supposed to be at a conference and you’re not there, acknowledge that sucks. Then let it go. Also, recognize moments when anxiety hits. For me, it’s at night. Doing meditation and breathing then is helpful.

The question I keep asking myself is: Who do I want to be when we are out of this? Who do I want to be as a leader, a partner, a mother? If I can ask that question and be committed to it, then I can also play. I’ve played three innings of Whiffle ball with my son. I’ve never done that before. I’m taking voice lessons. I’m serious about mastering TikTok dances with him. Play is so important because it builds bravery and courage.

CFW: How else do we find our bravery in these unprecedented circumstances?

Saujani: I’ve been thinking a lot about how you develop courage in a crisis. Some of the tactics I talk about in the book apply. You can’t be brave if you’re tired. So, what are the things getting in the middle of your sleep now? I think it’s important to put devices away. I was on a call with work colleagues and could hear CNN in the background. I said, ‘Shut it off. Today will be as bad as yesterday.’ Playing and doing something you suck at is also important. It’s relevant to bravery and building coverage.

CFW: Strength is another good word—something we would all consider a good thing to strive for. But can expecting yourself to be strong at all times be setting yourself up for failure? Right now, after all, it seems we need to acknowledge that this situation is so much bigger than us and that it’s OK to not feel strong.

Saujani: Absolutely. I have an eight-week-old baby and a five-year-old and elderly parents with heart disease and diabetes who are five states away. I wasn’t acknowledging that I was feeling really scared. Every so often my husband would see me have a frightened look and stare off. He’d say: It’s going to be OK. And, I realized I was not acknowledging even to myself what I was feeling.

On social media, there’s so much about how to have perfect home schooling. I’m not seeing a lot of expression of fear and grief. But it’s what gets us to learn to be imperfect. If you’re constantly putting up walls, it’s just all veneer.

CFW: What has been most difficult for you in the present circumstances, and how have you been dealing with it?

Saujani: It’s frightening to bring a newborn into the world at this moment. I look at my son and think he’s frowning. He has to be picking up on us. The idea of not bringing enough joy into his life makes me feel bad.

I think it’s important to do one simple thing a day to take your mind off this. Maybe it’s one day not watching any news and watching The Tiger King on Netflix. Part of being less anxious is doing something that is totally mind-numbing.

In a moment when you have 6.6 million people unemployed and everybody is worried about their jobs, people also don’t feel they can be brave at work now or take time for themselves and that’s horrible. If I show up frazzled and afraid, that is not going to help. Self-care is important.

CFW: No one would wish these incredibly difficult circumstances on the world. But are there any opportunities for growth that you imagine could come from it?

Saujani: I think it gives us the opportunity to be still and question: Who do we want to be when we come out of this? It might be too much to answer that question today. But I think that is a good thing to think about.


More from the May 2020 Newsletter

Posted in Speaker Articles, Life on Your Terms, Embrace the Unknown, Transitions, Life Balance Tagged , |

Two Important Personal Qualities for Navigating Economic Downturns

Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY, once conducted a large study, in partnership with Merrill Lynch and Harris Interactive, to identify what separated people who were successful—in a wide range of financial situations—from those who were not.

As you might have guessed, saving and having a financial plan was part of the answer. But so was being optimistic and resilient, Chatzky said in a recent conversation.

And, those are the skills we need now—and can cultivate now, she said. Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Financial Fitness, Transitions Tagged , |

The Expert Q&A on Mental Wellness

Joni YoungwirthWith Commonwealth Financial Network’s Joni Youngwirth

Q: This is clearly an important time to be thinking about wellness, given the extreme stress people are under as we adjust to the reality of a global pandemic. How do you think about mental wellness—and what are you doing now to keep your own mental wellness strong?

I am one who contracted COVID-19 early. Or at least my doctor and I think I did. I have not been tested because there are no tests. But since I returned from Amsterdam on March 9 because the event I was attending was closed when a participant tested positive for COVID-19, it stands to reason that’s what I had. I’ve now been symptom free for a week (in early April). During the height of my illness, I was taken by ambulance to the local ER and diagnosed with pneumonia. This all happened during the week I moved to a new residence in a new city. There I was, battling serious physical illness, having to deal with 911 knocking at my door and later trying to get prescribed meds while I was in isolation. Imagine having to text your kids from the ambulance, “I’m on my way to the ER. DON’T COME.” That is the type of stressful world we live in now. Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Life Balance, Health & Wellness Tagged , |

If You’re Worried About Money, Think About This

young woman expressing a perplexed look on her face while examining monthly bills and account balances

Sometimes, one simple shift in thinking can help us know that, whatever the challenge before us, we’ll figure it out. This week, economist and Conference for Women speaker Teresa Ghilarducci provides that reassurance on our latest episode of Women Amplified.

Here it is: If you’re worried about money, think about your future self, and take action that supports that self—not the fearful self that may be activated in this moment.

Fear triggers chemicals in your brain that will make you want to do something to blast that fear away now. But those actions may not be in your long-term best interest.

So, what should you do—especially if you’re dealing with a loss of income or feeling rocked by the volatility in the stock market?

“You have to do something, but you have to do something for your medium-term and long-term self,” says Ghilarducci, a professor of economics at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Focusing on the future, instead of this more anxious moment, will help you take charge. And from that more empowered mindset, you will be better positioned to take constructive action—on what Ghilarducci says should be three priority areas:

  1. Spending. If you don’t have a budget, this is the time to set it up—and watch it carefully. Fortunately, discretionary spending for many items—from Starbucks to hair care—is down. And we just might discover how many impulse purchases we don’t truly care about, which could help keep expenses permanently down.
  2. Debt. If you have credit card debt, ask the company to suspend payment without extra interest for the next two months—and to lower your interest rate while they’re at it. If you have a mortgage, do the same thing: ask for a two-month suspension without any extra interest accruing.
  3. Investments. If you can, look at your 401k accounts and make sure you know how much more you need to save to get on target. And, says Ghilarducci, remember that your asset values will probably come back in a year and a half. So, be patient.

Tune in to hear the full conversation with Theresa Ghilarducci on the Conferences for Women podcast, Women Amplified.


More from the April 2020 Newsletter

Posted in Speaker Articles, Financial Fitness Tagged |

How to Stay Meaningfully Connected

a cheerful young woman staying connected and chatting via laptop while enjoying a bite to eat on the balcony

During another crazy time in our world, Emily Morgan had a newborn and a husband suddenly out of work because of the financial crash of 2007-2008. She’d been working at the University of Pennsylvania but wanted to give remote work a try. Twelve years later, she is a successful entrepreneur who leads a team of 40—and an expert in the remote work that has suddenly become a reality for so many.

Here are five suggestions from Morgan, a Conference for Women speaker, about how to stay connected in meaningful ways and be a leader in times like this—followed by tips from the Conferences for Women team on how to make working at home work.

  • Create brief opportunities for everyone to see each other. Her entire team comes together over Zoom for 15 minutes once a week, with various team members taking a turn hosting. They cover core values, one positive development, organizational updates, shared learnings, and a story of values in action.
  • Offer small, more in-depth chances to connect. Morgan’s team is divided into packs of five to seven who meet on Zoom one hour a week where they have an opportunity to share—including, as she puts it, to “complain to and encourage”—one another. This, she says, helps create the culture they would have if working in the office together.
  • Think creatively about how you can support your team now. For example, she is organizing a virtual camp where volunteers teach topics that will aim to keep children engaged while their parents focus on work.
  • Establish clear boundaries and expectations. Being clear about metrics the team should be focused on over the next 30, 60 and 90 days. This helps everyone stay focused on priorities and know what they are accountable for.
  • Try to model calmness. Morgan says she meditates, limits her news intake, and reflects on whether how she is leading and acting is aligned with how she wants to see others act. “I don’t,” she adds, “want to be leading from a place of reaction.”

Morgan is the founder and CEO of Delegate Solutions, which offers premium-level virtual assistant services for entrepreneurs.


More from the April 2020 Newsletter

Posted in Speaker Articles, Embrace the Unknown, Life Balance Tagged , |

An Excerpt from Celeste Headlee’s Latest Book, “Do Nothing”

Excerpted from DO NOTHING copyright © 2020 by Celeste Headlee. Used by permission of Harmony Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


Do less, live more #DoNothingWe answer work emails on Sunday night. We read endless articles about how to hack our brains to achieve more productivity. We crop our photos and use filters before we post them on social media to earn approval. We read only the first couple paragraphs of the articles we find interesting because we don’t have time to read them in their entirety. We are overworked and overstressed, constantly dissatisfied, and reaching for a bar that keeps rising higher and higher. We are members of the cult of efficiency, and we’re killing ourselves with productivity.

The passage at the beginning of this Introduction was written in 1932, not long after the stock market crash of 1929, which caused the Great Depression. Russell’s description of the “cult of efficiency” predates World War II, the rise of rock and roll, the civil rights movement, and the dawn of the twenty-first century. More important, in my mind: It was written before the creation of the internet and smartphones and social media.

In other words, technology didn’t create this cult; it simply added to an existing culture. For generations, we have made ourselves miserable while we’ve worked feverishly. We have driven ourselves for so long that we’ve forgotten where we are going, and have lost our capacity for “light-heartedness and play.” Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Life on Your Terms, Life Balance Tagged , |

10 Work-at-Home Tips from the CFW Team

Mother using digital tablet to work from home while Father and son use laptop. They are sitting at the kitchen table

Since the Conferences for Women team is a remote one, we thought it might be useful to share some of the lessons we have learned in how to work effectively at home. Here are some highlights from our team:

  1. Shower and dress in real clothes every day. I’ve done the “It’s 5 p.m. and I’m still in my PJs” and have learned it’s just not good for my energy or my family’s. (Laura H.)
  2. Don’t watch or listen to the news during work hours. That’s tough especially now. But world events are not going to change just because I am watching them happen real-time. (Laura H.)
  3. Pick up the phone and talk. It’s easy to get isolated by just emailing all day. It’s a simple thing, but picking up the phone to talk to a colleague for 10 minutes helps more than you would think! (Michelle V.)
  4. With kids, make a routine just like a school day. They have to wake up and shower and eat breakfast at a normal time. Depending on their age, morning is for school work then getting outside. After lunch, they can watch a movie and play computer games or go on social media. Then they help make dinner and, after dinner, is family time. I’m also all for keeping a normal bed time. When my son was in the hospital on and off for a year, routine was so important. We had reading time, movie time, music time, video game time, art time, normal bed time. I taped the schedule on the wall. It was everything. (Laura H.)
  5. Do your best to communicate clear boundaries to your children regarding your work time and space. Try color-coded signs to hang on your office door, or come up with hand signals to let them know when you shouldn’t be disturbed. (Danielle L.)
  6. Take advantage of breaktime with kids around. Don’t eat lunch in front of your computer. Eat with your family, take 10 minutes to play, or go for a walk together. (Carolyn G.)
  7. Find “safe spaces” when needed. When all else fails and its chaos at home with the kids being nuts, I can be found in my bathroom with locked doors hiding to conduct a call. HAHA. Wish I was joking but I am not. (Jess B.)
  8. Tap your friends and neighbors to entertain the kids via video chat. Set up a schedule and take turns leading. (Sarah S.)
  9. Shut down your computer at night. My desk is in the living room in a small house and if I hear or see emails come in, I will head to the computer instead of spending time with my family. Last fall my kids commented they had only seen the back of my head for days on end.  I started shutting down for real; if I still have work to do at night it is after kids are in bed. (Laura H.)
  10. Give yourself grace. It’s OK if your kids eat mac-n-cheese three nights in a row and watch too much TV if it gets your family through the day. (Laura H.)

What are you discovering works for you? Please send your tips  to [email protected], and we’ll pass along highlights in our next newsletter. 


More from the April 2020 Newsletter

Posted in Speaker Articles, Embrace the Unknown, Life Balance Tagged |

Tips for Managing Stress

Alice Boyes, Conference for Women speaker and author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit

How do we, as a community of working women, best deal with the growing stress that has suddenly been unleashed in our lives as a result of the coronavirus? To answer that question, we spoke with Alice Boyes, Conference for Women speaker and author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit. Here are her suggestions—followed by links to 3 sessions we hope you find helpful now:

  • “You generally want to control everything you can and accept everything you can’t.” For example, washing your hands is in your control. School closures are not. “People who do well in these scenarios,” she explained, “are people who can be flexible. They can problem-solve but also be accepting where being accepting is the only option.”
  • Make a short list of high-impact actions you can take to reduce your risk. Remember that too many ideas can lead to overwhelm. Then focus on emotional coping—things that help you keep calm and carry on. One of her favorites, for example, is restorative yoga.
  • Refrain from personalizing the impact of this crisis. “Whatever dilemmas you’re having, you’re not the only one.” We’re in this together and, in fact, it helps to remember your community and how we can help each other.
  • Be creative. If you were planning a spring break trip that you have to reschedule for the fall, consider your alternatives. For example, Boyes has been pitching a tent in the backyard with her four-year-old.
  • Finally, she suggested, remember that this is not our first rodeo. Crises are part of the human experience. And humans are remarkable about responding to them. In the end, they tend to bring out the best in us.

Do you have helpful thoughts to share with the Conference for Women community? Please send them to [email protected], and we’ll pass along highlights in our next newsletter.

THREE TALKS FOR THESE TIMES. With many of us now working from home, children out of school, fluctuations in the stock market, and all the other uncertainty we’re facing, we sorely need our community and wise words from women who know what it takes to be brave, resilient and even happy in difficult times. Here are links to 3 sessions we hope lift your spirits:

RESTORATIVE YOGA. Also, don’t miss these relaxing and restorative yoga moves to help you to slow down and get back to YOU!


More from the March 2020 Newsletter

Posted in Speaker Articles, Embrace the Unknown, Health & Wellness Tagged , |

The Expert Q&A – on Engaging Male Allies

Trish FosterWith Bentley University’s Trish Foster

Q: Many men say they support equality for women in the workplace. But being an “ally” involves taking action. What are some examples of the most important kinds of actions male allies can take to advance gender equality in the workplace?

This is a big question! Men who want to be authentic allies need to actively, vocally, and visibly support, mentor, and sponsor women (and other underrepresented individuals). And they need to take action in everyday moments, like amplifying for women in meetings and advocating for them when they aren’t in the room. But before they can do all of this, and become authentic allies, they have to do some introspective work. I recommend three things: Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Networking, Job Advancement Tagged , |

5 Ways to Create the Career You Truly Want

Erica Williams Simon

At 27, Erica Williams Simon came to an important recognition. She was “successful” but not happy.

“So, I did what we are never supposed to do—especially as women, especially as black women: We’re never supposed to quit. You don’t quit. Well yes, you do and I did,” she recently said.

What she discovered in the time of self-exploration that followed was that many cultural and generational narratives had shaped her idea of what it means to be successful that had nothing to do with what she actually wanted out of life.

Now, the woman who had been listed on several “30 under 30” lists as a rising political star and TV commentator, is on a mission to help others understand the cultural stories that shape their lives and create new ones that will lead them to the life they actually want.

The author of the 2019 book, You Deserve the Truth, Erica shared these five insights with the Conference for Women: Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Career Choices, Transitions, Goals & Priorities Tagged , , |
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