"There is a tradition here in New Mexico to begin meetings and events such as ours with a blessing," said Robert Sindelar, ABA president and managing partner of Third Place Books, with three stores in and near Seattle, Wash., to begin Wednesday morning's breakfast keynote.
He then introduced Max Early, a Native American poet and potter who shared a greeting in his native language and read three poems, including one that delved into his work as a potter. "Just let it go, never mind," Early said of the trial-and-error process. "Even though a piece might break on you, it's part of that creative essence. Just keep going, persevering."
Sindelar observed that Early's words were "a wonderful way to ground us this morning. The metaphor of taking care of a broken pot and persevering is certainly in keeping with the spirit of bookselling."
|Reshma Saujani (photo: Two Cats Communications/ABA)
ABA v-p Jamie Fiocco, owner of Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C., introduced keynote speaker Reshmi Saujani, author of Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder (Currency, February), as well as two previous titles: Girls Who Code and Women Who Don't Wait in Line. She is also founder and CEO of Girls Who Code.
In keeping with the theme, Saujani shared the "little secret" that she had been struggling with her own perfectionism because she was giving a new speech: "So thank you for witnessing my bravery today."
When she was a child, Saujani's father read to her from "these wonderful Reader's Digest picture books" about people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt. "So from the time I was a little girl, I wanted to give back."
But her life took a different path to a Yale law degree and a job at a New York City law firm. Then, at 33, she made a transformative decision. "Up until that point I was the perfect immigrant daughter," Saujani said. "My obsession with perfection had made me forget what I really wanted to do." She remembered that young girl who had been so clear about her destiny.
In 2008, she watched Hillary Clinton say, in her first concession speech, "Just because I failed doesn't mean you shouldn't try, too."
"I literally thought she was speaking to me," Saujani recalled. She quit her job and ran for the U.S. Congress against an 18-year incumbent. She "lost miserably," despite spending what she described as some of the best months of her life. At the "victory party," she took stock: she was broke, felt humiliated and had no contingency plan.
"I tell you this story not because I want you to feel sorry for me... but because I was 33 years old, and when I ran for Congress it was the first time in my life that I had done something that was truly brave," she observed. "Before that, I thought that if I tried something and failed, that that failure would break me. And I know I'm not alone here, especially in this room. I've had the opportunity to talk to some amazing indie booksellers, and I know it's not easy, and that this fear of failure looms so large for so many of you. And the stakes are high when you're running up against high rent or Amazon, low minimum wages."
"If you're terrified of messing up when you try something new, what does that mean for the rest of your life?" Saujani asked, addressing several myths of perfection and noting: "Women especially suffer from perfectionism, and so much of it has to do with the way we were raised."
She cited her 2016 TED Talk, "Teach girls bravery, not perfection," adding that "a lot of people in this room can relate to what I'm talking about. Somebody may have been told that you were crazy to open an indie bookstore, but you did it anyway. You chased your dream anyway." She said "bravery is what succeeds in the workplace."
Regarding her first book, Saujani said, "I learned that in many ways in teaching girls to code, I also taught them how to be brave.... For those of you who have ever coded, you know that it's an annoying process. If that semicolon's in the wrong place, you have to do it over and over.
"It's like... pottery. Things break, they fall apart, you do it over and over again. You essentially are learning to fail. And that's what's so amazing about coding. I have found that by teaching girls about imperfection through coding, failure through coding, it has turned them into superheroes, into changemakers that they thought they could never be.... I've learned that when you teach girls to be imperfect, you teach them to be brave. And I think that the same thing can happen whether you're 75 or 17." --Robert Gray