‘Girls Leadership’ Founder Addresses Perfectionist Culture, Self-Compassion

Resilience

As a part of the Office of Health Promotion’s #LetsTalkResilience campaign, Rachel Simmons, bestselling author, educator, motivational speaker, and cofounder of the national nonprofit organization “Girls Leadership,” gave a lecture on Friday afternoon called “Braver in 75 Minutes” to help students at Boston College feel more authentic, assertive, and resilient.

Simmons began this conversation by discussing her pressures with achievement growing up, the ways she coped, and the publication of her first book, Odd Girl Out. The goal of Simmons’s lectures and workshops are to inspire people to discover they are braver than they think and helping them figure out that no one is alone in their struggles.

“The complex basically is telling you that you have to craft yourself into this really perfect specimen,” Simmons said. “We have this sense that no matter how hard we work, we can never be enough, and to me, that is a byproduct of being told you have to be amazing at everything you do.”

Simmons drew upon her experiences working with students at Smith college to formulate her arguments on struggle and stress in college. She discussed how the desire to be perfect has toxic effects on the one’s mental health, particularly that of adolescents. She noticed that students tend to take part in the “stress olympics,” which is term used to describe adolescents who compare their high stress levels to others’ around them.

Simmons said courage will emerge when people believe in what they do. She revealed that a big problem with courage is that people tend to view bravery “as a big climactic moment.”

“Your courage will come from how you think about [failures or setbacks], not about what you do in that moment,” Simmons said. “It is about what your mind is doing, what your mind’s telling you about how courage happens, and what things [when taking risks] mean.”

In a short activity, Simmons asked audience members to write three positive qualities about themselves and three instances in which their actions did not reflect these qualities. The purpose was to demonstrate to the audience that failures or setbacks don’t define a person.

To become more courageous, practice is key, according to Simmons. She believes that people tend to focus on the pressure to practice more skill-based things, but there is not the same pressure to practice bravery.

“I think there is this really pernicious myth that beating ourselves up makes us more adaptive, and this research does not hear this out,” Simmons said.

The best way to combat self doubt, self comparison, and one’s inner critic is to take small risks everyday, Simmons said. She recommends following the three-step practice of self-compassion that Kristin Neff, a world renowned expert on self-compassion, created: mindfulness, self-kindness, and having a sense of common humanity.

Not only does Simmons follow these techniques herself, but she also believes that they are one of the best tools to stop oneself from dwelling on mistakes and, instead, take risks.

“It really, really works,” Simmons said. “The research is truly amazing. When people ask me what adolescents could most use right now in terms of helping them deal with all this overwhelming stress and anxiety, my answer is always the three-step practice of self-compassion.”

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Photo Editor