Starting from Scratch with Reshma Saujani
As part of the Ladies Get Paid Book Tour, sponsored by Comcast NBC/Universal, Claire Wasserman, the founder and author of Ladies Get Paid, in conversation with Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, discuss how she started the organization, running for office, and why it’s important to be brave, not perfect.
Claire: I want to start with a quote that you said and then you can expand on it. You said, “I was the daughter of immigrants. I wanted to make my parents happy. I did everything right. I got all the right grades I was supposed to get. I went to the right schools, worked at the right places. I thought that if I was perfect, I’d be happy. If I put all those notches on my belt that would bring me joy. What I was so confused about is when I had it all together, why was I still so miserable?”
Reshma: I think growing up as the daughter of immigrants who came here and who got the American dream, it was always about, “Go become a lawyer. Go to an Ivy League School.” I remember when I first got my paycheck working in a law firm my father framed it because they had never seen so much money before. I also got in my head that if I did all these things that I would feel satisfied, I would feel happy. I would feel joyful.
It’s funny. I feel like for me at that moment in my life, I felt more passionate when things didn’t work out, then when things actually did work out. That was just like a big eye-opener, like, I’m doing all the things that I’m supposed to do, but I’m still not happy and I still don’t feel like I’m living my life of purpose. That’s what really inspired me to quit and to run for Congress. Something that I had like less than a 1% chance of winning.”
Claire: Was that something that you’d always wanted to do?
Reshma: My father would read me these Reader’s Digest books about Dr. King, Mahatma Gumby and Eleanor Roosevelt. From the time I was little, I was moved by being a changemaker. I also had a very romantic view about politicians that if you got to choose to serve the country you really could make a difference.
Pretty much from the time I was little,that’s what I wanted to do. I just didn’t know how. Nobody where I came from ran for office. I didn’t know about running– How do you start a campaign? How do you do that? It seems so daunting. I found myself just putting it off, putting it off, putting it off. I was also $300,000 in student loan debt. I felt like I had to go work for “the Man”, make a dent in those loans and then I would be free to go do what I was really meant to do.
By the time that happened, I was in my mid ’30s and I was stuck in a life that I didn’t want. I was stuck in a career that I didn’t want and I didn’t know how to get out.”
Reshma: I don’t think I was there in the beginning. Listen, I think that I was very keen. I’ve been doing the same thing since I was 10-years-old, marching, protesting, organizing about the same things: poverty, women, girls, opportunity. That is 100% because my parents coming here as refugees gave me a profound sense of patriotism to this country.
I know it sounds cheesy, but I’ve always wanted to give back to the country that literally saved my parents’ life. When I started Girls Who Code, I didn’t really think I was going to run it. I was actually looking for someone else to do that. I had an idea that I wanted to put out there in the world that I think should happen.
I often tell women, “If I applied for the Girls Who Code CEO, I never would have gotten that job. You never would have given it to me, I wouldn’t have been qualified, I wouldn’t have had the right experience. The reality is that most jobs out there for women, they’re not going to give it to you.
I’ve realized that it’s so important to create your own reality. If you have the slightest bit of entrepreneurship you go build something, create something, design something, make something. That is when you get to realize your fullest sense of purpose.
Watch the entire conversation with Reshma Saujani here. A big thank you to Comcast/NBCUniversal for sponsoring this series.