I had no interest in reading Lean In, because I had seen Sheryl Sandberg’s TedTalk and figured I got her point. I just didn’t like it.
And that point was: women shouldn’t scale back their ambition because they might have kids someday. Instead, we should lean in to our careers, because we don’t know if/when we’ll have kids. Also, the world needs more female leaders, and it’s up to us.
It all seemed annoyingly preachy, like Michael Phelps telling us to train harder for the 400 i.m. without asking, “Hey, do you even want to swim?”
When that TedTalk went viral about two years ago, I was at a point in my life where I was finally prioritizing intrinsic rewards: equanimity, happiness, kindness, etc.
And then along came Sheryl Sandberg, via seemingly everyone in my social network, saying, No! You’re on the wrong path! Go back to chasing extrinsic rewards!
Instead of feeling empowered by her suggestion to “sit at the table,” I was defensively insisting that happiness was outside the building.
Looking back, I should have realized she was stirring something in me, because Anne Coulter says crazy things all the time and I don’t care. (WHEN will I learn that a strong reaction to anything is information about me as much as it’s information about the thing?)
But I didn’t dig deep, and so, when her book came out, and the hoopla began, I got more defensive.
About how it seemed tone-deaf. Lean in? Really? My friends who leaned out of the workforce after having babies didn’t do so because they lacked drive. Their companies didn’t give a crap about flextime. Or they didn’t make enough to cover a full-time nanny.
I don’t have kids yet, but the idea of being career-driven and having a baby seems hard, as in: tearing-my-hair-out-hard.
And here was a woman with incredible resources and an outlier-ish-once-in-a-lifetime career trajectory telling us to work harder. So we could … make a lot of money and outsource family life? And run a company that … [insert your own impressions of Facebook here]
And if that were what Sheryl Sandberg was saying, I would have been right, because this is all very annoying.
But I was wrong about her book and her message.
I only read Lean In because Anne said it was worth a read. Anne has convinced me to lean in (ha) to all sorts of things that turned out to be wise moves (joining Tumblr, going on a yoga retreat, wearing J Brand skinny jeans).
Turns out, Sheryl Sandberg’s biggest argument in Lean In is *not* (despite every book review I read of it) that we need to be more ambitious, it’s let’s control what we can control because the working world is not optimized for women to flourish. Blame status quo, biology, accidental biases, and sexism.
- trusting your voice
- learning how to negotiate
- fostering authentic conversations
- managing up
- getting critical feedback
- looking at your career path as a jungle gym rather than a ladder
- engaging your partner in childcare duties if you have kids
- understanding differences between male and female leaders (a big point in her book: men who are perceived as powerful are liked, while women need to be liked in order to be perceived as powerful)
- not waiting for a mentor to catapult your career to the next level (apparently she’s encountered lots of women who think mentors are the workplace equivalent of Prince Charming)
- understanding that you need to toot your own horn when you see opportunities
- dealing with the guilt you feel if you have kids and choose to work. She tells a sweetly honest story about not knowing the names of her kid’s classmates, and another mother has to explain to her who all the children are.