Wi14 Keynote Speaker Reshma Saujani on Being Brave

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Reshma Saujani, whose book Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder will be published by Penguin Random House on February 1, is set to appear as a keynote speaker at the American Booksellers Association’s 2019 Winter Institute in Albuquerque this month.

Reshma Saujani's headshot
Credit: Adrian Kinloch

Inspired by her popular 2016 TED Talk, Brave, Not Perfect draws upon interviews Saujani conducted with hundreds of girls and women across the U.S. These interviews tell stories of everyday bravery and courage as it exists in the professional and personal lives of women, as well as how perfectionism can impact one’s ability to succeed. Saujani’s book closes with a number of strategies readers can use in their day-to-day lives to help cultivate bravery.

Saujani is the founder and CEO of the national nonprofit Girls Who Code, which aims to close the gender gap in STEM fields and change the image of what a programmer looks like. She is also the New York Times bestselling author of the 13-book Girls Who Code series. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and Yale Law School, Saujani has also been named one of Fortune’s World’s Greatest Leaders, in Fortune’s 40 Under 40, a WSJ Magazine Innovator of the Year, and a Future Lion of New York by the New York Times, among other honors.

Here, Saujani discusses perfectionism, being an entrepreneur, and bravery with Bookselling This Week.

Bookselling This Week: What will you be talking about in your keynote speech at Winter Institute?

Reshma Saujani: My keynote is about how we can unlearn perfectionism and rewire ourselves to live braver, more authentic lives. I believe that as young women, we were conditioned to strive for perfection — to get all A’s, to be universally liked, to look perfectly put together all the time — and that there are real repercussions of that in our adult lives. If we can just undo some of that perfection training, and start trying things even though we might not be good at them, women can ignite a bravery revolution.

BTW: What do you hope booksellers will take away from your talk?Brave, Not Perfect book cover

RS: I want to inspire them! My hope is that by sharing my story, and the lessons and stories I have learned from women across the country, booksellers will leave my talk empowered and excited to go flex their own bravery muscles.

BTW: When did you know that bravery was a topic you wanted to write about?

RS: I gave a TED Talk in 2016 called “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection,” and it just blew up. I was a bit of an unlikely author. I was already the CEO of Girls Who Code, touring the country speaking about the gender gap in technology, and overcommitted in about every other sense, but as this message continued to resonate with people, I felt like the book had to be written. And now I want to get it in the hands of every woman, every parent, every teacher out there.

BTW: You begin Brave, Not Perfect by sharing the story of how you gave up a career in law to run for U.S. Congress and later establish Girls Who Code. What drew you to the realm of public service?

RS: I’m the daughter of immigrants. My parents came to the United States as political refugees from Uganda with nothing, and this country literally saved their lives. Growing up, my father would read to me about Dr. King or Eleanor Roosevelt, and I just knew from a very young age that I wanted to be like them. I wanted to serve and give back.

BTW: Brave, Not Perfect offers strategies women can implement in their own lives to cultivate braveness, such as setting a daily bravery challenge and asking for feedback. Of all the strategies you provide, which do you think are particularly beneficial for indie booksellers?

RS: As entrepreneurs and small business owners, indie booksellers are trying to keep a ton of people happy all the time — in some ways that’s just good business. But we have to look at the toll that “people pleasing” can take on us, and how that desire to serve, to not rock the boat, can cause us to lose our own voices. So, I would say practice speaking up. Maybe you aren’t going to tell a rude customer to get lost, but look for ways in your daily life that you can advocate for yourself.

BTW: Who has inspired you to be brave?

RS: I get my inspiration from the young women in Girls Who Code. These are girls who come from all walks of life, some of them from really challenging circumstances at home. And if they can be brave enough to pursue their dreams, so can we.

BTW: What have your experiences with indie bookstores been like?

RS: I’m an obsessive reader. From the time I was a little girl, I’ve always had my nose in a book… usually more than one at a time. Indie bookstores are giving that experience to so many little girls (and boys!) out there, and whether they know it or not, they are changing lives.

Saujani’s breakfast keynote will take place in Ballroom B/C in the Albuquerque Convention Center from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 23.

Winter Institute 14 is made possible by the general support of lead sponsor Ingram Content Group and from publishers large and small. See the full Winter Institute program here.