What makes a woman fearful? Snakes, mice, bats, a potential assault…absolutely! But perhaps the daily, unsuspected assailant that strikes fear in many women is the fear of failing to measure up. If you’re a guy, this may come as a surprise. If you’re a woman you may be breathing a sigh of relief that someone else can relate to your secret fear. If you disagree, then there is no need for you to read further.
In a 2016 TED Talk, Reshma Saujani put forth a case for young women to be socialized for bravery instead of being socialized for perfection. Specifically, she uses coding classes to help young girls overcome their fears and gain an interest in STEM and coding fields.
In her presentation, she noted an example of the different responses in a co-ed coding class when students encountered obstacles in the code. When the boys hit a problem, they would say to the teacher, “There is something wrong with my code.” In contrast, when the girls hit a road block they would reply, “There’s something wrong with me.” Unfortunately, this is a common thought among women, young and old. More than ever, our culture markets and sells to the female population the idea of “perfection.” It propagates a culture of comparison. This phantom reality is unhealthy and destructive. Perfection is unattainable. It is non-existent this side of Heaven. We must reclaim our girls’ thoughts to help them embrace their unique gifts and talents, to inspire them to be courageous, and to meet challenges with confidence and perseverance.
We should desire for our young women to become strong leaders not solely for the purpose of climbing corporate ladders or securing prominent leadership positions in political office; rather, so they will be confident in their identity in their Creator, willing to take calculated risks in wisdom, and help others to achieve their callings in life with excellence.
Here are three ways to build courage in young women, help them take risks, and push through challenges without internalizing problems.
1. Encourage that special lady’s effort. Celebrate her incremental successes.
As a teacher, I remembering having a few girl students along the way that would just get stuck on timed math fact tests or writing assignments. Encouraging them to give their best and not focus on the results helped them overcome the challenge put before them. Noting small improvements and praising diligence helped them resist comparison and rejoice in the results of their work.
By taking this approach, we are cultivating a relationship with a young woman. We are building trust and cheering her on. She will unknowingly internalize, “You are for me! I can do it! This task is hard, but I can work the problem.”
2. Help her identify lies she believes about herself. (I’m not smart enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not good enough.) Replace it with truth and validate her.
We all entertain these lies. They are rooted in comparing ourselves to others. I admit, we live and work in a highly competitive world. I also concede that not all competition is bad, but when it becomes an idol or is at the expense of another, it is destructive.
Ask questions to find the root cause of the discouragement. This will help you to lead a young woman well and inspire her to achieve her potential.
“Why are you disappointed with how you played in the game? What level of effort did you give on that test?”
When an answer includes something like, “Sally always get an A,” you can connect the dots that a young woman is comparing herself to another in an unhealthy way.
Speak truth into her life. Affirm her unique gifts and talents, “yours are this, but Sally’s may be that.” Always focus the conversation on effort and growth. All any of us can do is give our best and not give up when things are hard.
3. Exhort her to appreciate others’ strengths.
As we grow confident women through encouragement and accountability, they will become more secure in their callings and identity. They will rise to new challenges with resolve because of past practice. They will also feel less threatened by others’ strengths.
It is an ugly thing to see jealously in ourselves and others over another’s gifting. Jealously divides and breeds a spirit of hate. Learning how to rejoice over another’s successes is freeing to the soul. It spawns blessings and goodness. It builds relationships and encourages collaboration and innovation.
As moms, teachers, friends, and co-workers we must model and lead the way. The women of tomorrow will learn how to join hands with those more experienced to lift themselves up, while extending a hand to pull up another who is struggling.
At my gym there is a saying on the wall, “Strong women don’t hold each other down, they pull each other up.”
Let us endeavor to cultivate strong young women who will be confident in who they are as individuals, willing to go outside their comfort zones, and secure enough to encourage other women to achieve their callings in life with excellence.
Will you contemplate with me?
- What young woman has been placed in your and my life in which to invest?
- What growth efforts can we celebrate in her life this week?
- What truth or word of encouragement does she need to hear?
- How can we encourage her to appreciate others’ strengths?