The Importance of Taking Risks


Recently, in preparation for the 2015 Pathfinder Summer Leadership Summit, I asked a great number of women in leadership roles, “What is important for young women in high school to know or learn in order to be successful leaders?” Almost unanimously, I heard variations on a common theme: “Take risks and don’t be afraid to fail. Failures are opportunities to learn and grow.”


In conversations with high school girls in my life coaching practice, I hear two common perspectives. Some girls are motivated by a fear of failing classes and a pervasive sense that it would ruin their chances for future happiness. Others are driven to earn near perfect grades, worried that if their average falls below 95, they will not get accepted into their dream college and their life will somehow fall off course. In both cases, girls are learning to master the educational system without a lot of heart or soul in the game. They have internalized the message that a successful future depends on getting good grades. Going through the motions to achieve good grades may (or may not) get them into a college on their preferred list, but I wonder: where does this leave them in navigating their lives and futures? How does it prepare them to become the leaders that our community needs? Grades ARE important to get through high school and into college and they can reflect important learning, but there is so much more that goes into being a confident, successful young adult.


There are many great educators who encourage and inspire our youth daily and they have my utmost respect. However, it seems that girls (and boys) generally aren’t rewarded in school for taking risks and learning from their failures. Girls learn to follow the rules and aim for perfection. They get strong grades and pass standardized tests without necessarily developing the self confidence and skills they need to thrive in the world beyond high school. Girls can achieve academic success without gaining some of the important skills which will position them to be a confident leader in their field, break the glass ceiling, and change the world for the better.


In focus groups with girls, they shared with me that they see this irony and are frustrated by it. They want to develop the skills to be successful, independent adults. They want to learn about topics such as networking, resume writing, interviewing, time management, financial planning, and public speaking. They are tired of hearing about getting into college as if that is the only ingredient in a successful future.


Today’s high school girls have the intellect, technology, and passion to solve many of the world’s problems. They are starting their own businesses at 15 years old and have a sense of global interconnectedness that is inspiring. Pathfinder’s Summer Leadership Summit is designed to help girls build confidence in their authentic, unique selves while giving them the skills, knowledge, and connections to forge their own paths to greatness. Not the path dictated by grades and numbers, but the ones that speaks to them and lets their true gifts and talents shine. The path where they take risks to find their greatness and where any “failures” are merely opportunities to build resilience and move closer to their dreams.


For more information about the Pathfinder Summer Leadership Summit, visit our website at or contact Rachel at

Vanessa Wright