This post originally appeared on USA Today.
Girl power. Breaking glass ceilings. Anything is possible. You can be the first female president.
Positive messages, right? Well, maybe not so much when we push our girls and young women to achieve, or overachieve. But they’re invincible, right? Young and invincible. Capable of doing anything merely because of their youth and promise.
In her new book Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives (Harper, 234 pp, ★★★ out of four), author Rachel Simmons clearly shows the damage being done to girls.
Enough As She Is shows parents, educators and girls what it means to try to achieve at almost any cost — amplified by social media. That includes pressure to be admitted to just the right college — and in some cases just the right high school — coupled with unrealistic body-shape expectations.
Girls don’t have it easy. Simmons has been on the front lines with young women as co-founder of Girls Leadership, an organization that teaches responsibility and self-awareness to girls. She also is the author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls With Courage and Confidence.
“In my office on an all-women’s college campus (Smith), and as an educator and researcher, I’ve learned that what girls really need are the skills to lean inside as much as to lean in: to practice self-compassion, nourish their most important relationships, and seek support when they need it,” Simmons says. “As a recovering overachiever myself, I have had to learn the same skills.”
Many women take pride in doing it all or having it all. Setting lofty goals and reaching them can be a source of pride. And when you hit a wall, you’re supposed to go it alone and pick yourself up. Simmons shows how this is pushing girls beyond good mental health.
She says that in high schools and colleges across the USA, there’s a competitive complaining game called “Stress Olympics”:
Student One: “Ughhhhhh I’m so tired, I only slept five hours last night because I had a paper due at nine and I started it at two a.m.”
Student Two: “I know, ugh, I only slept three hours and I had cross-country practice this morning at six.”
Student Three: “I have three papers due tomorrow? And I’ve only started one? I’m going to be mainlining coffee for the next twenty-four hours.”
As Simmons writes, “Stress Olympics are a test of mental and physical ballast, and of bootstrap success.” But they offer no medals, acclaim or Wheaties-box fame.
She backs up how dangerous “success at any cost” can be by using data that shows girls suffer from an alarming rate of depression vs. boys the same age. Between 2010 and 2015, girls’ depressive symptoms increased by 50%, more than double the rate of boys.
Many girls see setbacks as personal flaws and that leads to depression, Simmons writes. Failure increases negative feelings, while achievement feeds confidence. So the author tries to show girls how to “fail well,” or practice “failure resiliency” and “self-compassion.”
Failure holds valuable lessons. Regroup and try something else. This way, self-worth isn’t tied only to succeeding.
Simmons emphasizes to girls and those who love them that embracing failure can lead to future success — and healthy and happy lives.