On August 15th, I learned the true meaning of fearlessness at the Keds Brave Life Summit in New York City. This event brought over 150 girls from across the globe for one purpose: unlocking the leadership potential in the next generation of women.
Author Rachel Simmons led the event and she took a revolutionary approach in teaching attendees what bravery truly means. What does it mean to be brave and have you ever felt pressure to be perfect?" Simmons asked. This question challenged us to redefine bravery in a world where we expect flawlessness and nothing less. Bravery means learning that absolute perfection is impossible and in order to grow we must make mistakes.
Participants were treated to remarks from powerhouse women in the fields of entrepreneurship, academia, philanthropy and social enterprise. We heard from Lauren Berger of InternQueen.com; she showed us how to accept rejection and push on towards our goals without fear. Afterwards, She's The First founder Tammy Tibbetts spoke about the importance of maintaining passion in advocating for social causes. Next, Dr. Dena Simmons taught us how to be stronger than our insecurities when striving to accomplish difficult goals.
Largely, each of these women are leaders and immensely successful in their own right. However, it was not an easy journey for them. Many speakers spoke of their struggles including encountering depression, mental illness, financial instability, sexism, personal/family pressure, racism, discrimination and crippling failure.
Like many in attendance, I thought the conference would be a 1-2-3 guide on how to become a CEO in less than ten years. Little did I know that I was participating in a life changing movement to show girls that there is more to life than an endless quest to be perfect. This is a disease infecting and slowly breaking all of us. This event did not showcase individuals that overcame the impossible to stand before us as pristine and heroic people. Contrarily, we were allowed to see the cracks in an otherwise polished armor that we all put up to shield the world from who we really are (which is both strong and fragile human beings).
College sophomore Stella Oduro participated in the summit upon the invitation of her former middle school teacher. She now chooses to live a brave life by, "[learning] to be comfortable in my own skin. I learned to smile and say to myself that no matter how little or big thing that accomplish today, I tried my best and that is enough to smile about. Most importantly, celebrate my achievements and become my best advocate and cheerleader."
Her words are inspiring. Nonetheless, there is societal pressure to achieve, succeed and be the best at everything. Though there is an expectation to be vessels of perfection in our personal and professional lives, we can challenge that. All ambition should be valued but not at the cost at our own personal sanity or happiness. In the end, "success will not make you happy it will only make you successful." The Brave Life Summit called for an end to unhappiness in favor of bravery.
Braveness means accepting rejection but treating failure as an essential part of success. True bravery is the realization that other women are not your competitors and that we can all assist one another. It's also about wholeness. In order to be successful, we must be whole human beings. This can be done by practicing self-care and recognizing our own self worth. Moreover, to be brave is to be vulnerable. It is when we expose these vulnerabilities that we can grow as leaders. We don't have to be perfect all of the time as one cannot learn from perfection but through our failings.
There is nothing stopping you from being brave too. Choose to live a brave life today, tomorrow and for the rest of your future.