We Can't Teach Our Girls to Be Afraid of Failure

The fear of failure is a gluttonous beast. When unchained, it devours our confidence, salivates at illogical reason and gnarls on insecurities. Hence, we need personal champions whose advocacy douse the bitter taste of self-doubt. As we conclude Women’s History Month, we must reflect on the need to be visionaries in destroying the social constructs that lead girls to become women who erroneously believe they are less than. In Teach Girls Bravery Not Perfection, Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, shares the following:
During the first week, when the girls are learning how to code, a student will call her teacher over and she'll say, "I don't know what code to write." If she didn't know any better, she'd think that her student spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen. But if she presses undo a few times, she'll see that her student wrote code and then deleted it. She tried, she came close, but she didn't get it exactly right. Instead of showing the progress that she made, she'd rather show nothing at all.
It’s not unreasonable to be afraid to fail—you could be embarrassed or hurt or lose things you hold dear—but being paralyzed by that fear is unreasonable. So we need motivators, encouragers, people who push us beyond a limited view of ourselves and launch us into a land of possibility. That’s why I do the educational work I do. I am the product of a lineage of motivators, and it is my fueling fire to pay that encouragement forward.

A History of Motivators

Both of my parents were born and raised in Nigeria. My paternal grandfather, Augustine, did not have a great education. He only made it to the eighth grade, but vowed that his children would advance in school as far as they could make it. “You’ll continue going to school as far as you can, even if I have to sell my pants.” My Aunt Cecilia continued her education, even as my grandfather’s friends mocked him for allowing a girl to be so well educated. She eventually became the first woman from her village to go to college, and retired as head of the state education board. My father would defy all odds and study medicine. His encourager was the British doctor at a small hospital several miles away who put him in charge of the school’s dispensary. My dad discovered his passion for medicine, motivated by the self-sacrifice and medical abilities of Dr. Mrs. Phillips, as they affectionately called the British doctor. My parents would eventually settle in the States as a doctor and nurse, where to this day they serve Chicago’s South Side. The dream was to return to Nigeria and open a hospital, and be like Dr. Mrs. Phillips. With a new family, my parents had to make a choice. America offered more security and better educational opportunities, so they sacrificed their dream and stayed in Chicago. As I was finishing school we circled around my parents’ shelved aspirations and together formed The GEANCO Foundation, an acronym for the first letters of our names. Our mission is to save and transform the lives of the poor and vulnerable in Africa by leading medical missions, running maternal and infant health programs and supporting primary schools in Nigeria. We are collaborating with Stanford Hospital and many others to develop a world-class hospital in the country.

Leading a Movement

I currently serve as the manager of external affairs and engagement at OneGoal, an innovative college persistence program that identifies, trains and supports our nation’s most effective teachers to lead historically underserved high school students to reach their full potential and graduate from college. In our mutual courageous vulnerability we become a family with our students. We are bound to their dreams and fears and they tether to our hopes. Our charge is to be vanguards of our fellows’ (students) authentic self, to allow them to fail and in doing so nurture their grit, resilience and growth-mindset. Becoming a fellow of the Surge Institute was like having a mirror shine blindingly in my face. My own passion and driving force that all of our students deserve a fierce advocate fighting for them beyond all circumstances was being reflected right back at me in the credos of Surge’s founder, Carmita Vaughan. Surge is a realized dream of creating an organization that assists often-ignored and underrepresented education leaders of color in accelerating their impact and influence across the field of education. As leaders of color, we cannot afford to be crippled by our roadblocks or bashful about our areas of strength. The beast of self-doubt nips at our heels, but we are leading a movement and we must each write a piercing verse. To quote my oldest brother, “Writing while uninspired is an insult to the marriage between pen and paper. So I choose to write the tale of my life with all my heart.” And with that I look forward to writing my verses in this movement with the inspiration of my tenacious advocates and the fierce belief in the students we all serve.
Nche Onyema, manager of External Affairs and Engagement of OneGoal-Chicago, is a brand storyteller, Surge Fellow, GEANCO Foundation board member, dance teacher, and an advocate for education programs that inspire self-belief in young people.

Join the Movement