Two Attempts to ‘Lean In’

I recently finished reading Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, written by Sheryl Sandberg.  If the name or face are not familiar, she is the chief operating officer of Facebook, recently elected to the board of directors.  Before she was at Google.  Basically a big deal.

Did I mention she also has a family?!

I should not have been surprised that this would be a staple of this book.  The basis of the book was a pep talk, no a good shaking, to women out there in how to ‘Lean In.’   Take hold of their careers, regain power and get themselves to the table.  I am all for this message, but toward the middle of the book I gave up.  She had three chapters written for those with children or those planning to have a family.  She believes you can have both.  Of course I do too.

However, I literally stopped reading for at least two weeks.  My husband even heard my frustrations.  Why was I so upset?  The first part of the book hooked me in.  She had so many nuggets of wisdom and words of inspiration.  Below are a few of my favorite topics/quotes:

On Fear and Being Afraid

Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged.

What would you do if you weren’t afaird?

Careers are a Jungle Gym, not a Ladder

Ladders are limiting—people can move up or down, on or off. Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration.  Plus, a jungle gym provides great views for many people, not just those at the top.  On a ladder, most climbers are stuck staring at the butt of the person above.

Mentorship

I believe we have sent the wrong message to young women.  We need to stop telling them, “Get a mentor and you will excel.” Instead, we need to tell them, “Excel and you will get a mentor.

Bringing our whole selves to work

True leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed.

They believe leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection. 

In the meantime, we can all hasten this change by committing ourselves to both seek—and speak—our truth

But then she lost me. The message in the middle of the book was very clearly written to women who are currently or planning to have a family.   I do not discount the need for this message, it just was not one I personally identified with.  One I didn’t want to hear.

Two weeks and two books later I tried to ‘Lean-in’ again.  I am stubborn, so leaving a book unread on my kindle is bothersome.  I looked ahead to future chapters which appeared more open to all women.  The section below is what brought me back to the book.

 “Imagine that a career is like a marathon—a long, grueling, and ultimately rewarding endeavor. Now imagine a marathon where both men and women arrive at the starting line equally fit and trained. The gun goes off. The men and women run side by side. The male marathoners are routinely cheered on: “Lookin’ strong! On your way!” But the female runners hear a different message. “You know you don’t have to do this!”  As the women struggle to endure the rigors of the race, spectators shout, “Why are you running when your children need you at home?”  If a female marathoner can ignore the shouts of the crowd and get past the tough middle of the race, she will often hit her stride.”

I am not a mother, but I am an an ambitious woman in addition to a competitive runner.  So, I can empathize with women whom are doing their best to pursue their profession, attempting to being amazing mothers, and overcome stereotypes from the idiots who give them guilt.  Men and women are different, but please let them both run, walk, crawl and kick their way to the finish.

So I was back to reading.  I laughed out loud as COO Sandberg described herself as a pom-pom feminist.  I wrote something similar about myself in a previous post, as a baby feminist.

She reflected on feminism and how possibly the efforts of those that came before us need to be redirected,

And yet, in a deep and profound way, we are failing. Because feminism wasn’t supposed to make us feel guilty, or prod us into constant competitions over who is raising children better, organizing more cooperative marriages, or getting less sleep. It was supposed to make us free—to give us not only choices but the ability to make these choices without constantly feeling

What also struck me was a message of unification, for both men and women,

We all want the same thing: to feel comfortable with our choices and to feel validated by those around us. So let’s start by validating one another.

I could not agree more.

My highlights toward the end of the book had more roots in mentorship, specifically that women need to be much better at supporting each other.  I had written about my own attempts for mentorship, called I Need a Shero.  In my attempts to forge some female mentors, I have experienced leaders who are too busy, not interested, or inaccessible.  She shared a quote from the Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright,

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Sheryl shared a story about four women at Merrill Lynch that started meeting for lunch.  But these were not lunches for gossip.  They shared accomplishments and frustrations, as well as served as a brainstorming group for each other.  After each lunch the women would go back to their individual departments to brag about the other women’s  achievements.  As a result many of them got promotions.

In this spirit, Lean In has created ‘circles’ that readers can create and join to re-create this type of support network.  Check out more about this at http://leanin.org/.  The image to the right was featured in nydailynews.com, reporting,

One woman describes the popular gatherings as ‘Girl Scouts for adults.’ Another says it’s like ‘a book club with a purpose.’

I decided to write this post, as I recently reviewed the book on Goodreads as 4 out of 5 stars.  An old colleague reached out the messaging service and inquired asking why I gave it four stars and whether I would recommend it.  I gave her the general feedback I am here.

However, I looked back upon all my kindle highlights and it was stacked full with amazing messages.  But I got caught up.  I am 110% willing to Lean In.  Heck, I self-proclaimed the day I left my job in January that I was Leaping (and personally I think that is a lot more than just leaning in).

I think what I felt or better stated ‘heard’ was similar to the messages the female runners did in the analogy such as “You know you don’t have to do this!”  The voices I heard were pressure.  Sheryl never said it.  But she did dedicate a number of chapters to women with children.  Because of this I was not in that race.  I was trying to fit in, trying to understand and empathize.

But like any good runner, I stuck with it.  I ‘leaned in’ twice and I am grateful I came back to the book.  I would recommend it to others, but with the knowledge that I have shared in this post.

I think the lesson for me is the majority of women my age do have children and are seriously struggling doing and being all to everyone.  Attempting to be a superwoman in the office and at home, as well as fighting the old boys (or old gals) club in the mean time.

I also realize that I have my own fight in me when it comes to the kids conversation.  I am so tired of the questions, the looks, the wonder.  When are you and your husband…your clock…aren’t they so cute…when you have one…?!?

These thankfully are not even from my parents, who are the most awesome-ist non-pressure people ever (thank you!).

The choice is so personal and I will admit, I do not know yet.  And that is a choice too.  As quoted in Lean In,

“We all want the same thing: to feel comfortable with our choices and to feel validated by those around us. So let’s start by validating one another.”

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