It is possible to pursue high standards without losing yourself in the process.
That was the message Rachel Simmons, author of Enough as She Is, had for members of Culver Girls Academy during four sessions last week covering the pressures girls face today and how to cope with them.
Simmons, who first spoke to CGA students in December, went into more details during her all-day stay. Entitled “Everyday Brave: How to Take Risks, Embrace Failure, and Discover You’re Tougher than You Think,” her sessions covered many of problems girls – and women – are facing today and ways to cope with them.
She talked about the “College Application Industrial Complex,” which makes girls believe that they must be “amazing at everything you do. You are supposed to be perfect.” Plus, you are to look effortless while doing it, she said.
Simmons said she lived that way through high school and college, eventually becoming a Rhodes Scholar. But when she got to Oxford, “I hated it.” It wasn’t until then she realized that she was so concerned with winning and “playing the game I forgot who I was.” So she dropped out and was ridiculed for it.
In college, she dropped classes when she was earning a B- or B because she didn’t want to hurt her GPA. The classes were interesting but hard, so she dropped them. Those dropped classes were in psychology, the field she is working in now.
It is a common trap in this time of “effortless perfection,” she said. “You stop taking risks.” The performance goal becomes avoiding failure, which conflicts with the learning goal of studying something you are interested in and care about.
Who you are is far different from what people expect you to be.
Also, by worrying more about winning and lessening the situations where you may fail, you become less resilient. Getting an A on a test is no longer celebrated and not doing well becomes a crushing event.
Girls especially suffer from perceived roles. “Who you are is far different from what people expect you to be,” Simmons said, and that eventually leads to “feelings of we are not enough.” But girls must remember “why you matter, and why you matter has nothing to do with your college application.”
The lack of confidence girls develop can eventually lead them to become risk averse. And, even though they have done something before, they can still suffer from the “imposter syndrome.” Simmons said. Personally, she had to face this problem when she started to think about teaching an online class. She also had to work through that feeling when she started her new book.
You have to see what is true and what is real, she said. “See the ways you are good enough. Remind yourself you do belong and you are worthy.” If you can’t believe in yourself, believe in someone who believes in you.
It is a myth that being hard on yourself is the best way to get motivated, Simmons added. Self-criticism just causes your anxiety to go up and your motivation to go down. “The grace we extend to others” we must also extend to ourselves. Practice self-compassion.
Use meditation and acknowledge your feelings. “The only way to get to the other side of your feelings is to walk through,” she said. And, remember your connection to common humanity. “You are not the only one. Somebody has gone through this before.”
By practicing mindfulness, self-kindness and common humanity, it is possible to pursue high standards without beating yourself up, Simmons said. Many people perform better after they have removed that internal pressure. “You are OK as you are.”
She added CGA girls are in the enviable position of being able to make themselves vulnerable, then leaning on each other for support.
“With each other, you will be able to take amazing risks.”