A Psychologist’s Take on Leaning In

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I’m going to do it: I’m going to join the throng and add my two cents about the much-talked-about the book Lean In.  First a little back story:

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook.  She is extraordinarily successful on many fronts: financially, professionally, socially, and it seems from her book that she also has a happy, loving family (she is married and has two youngish kids).  Ms. Sandberg decided to write this book after giving a series of talks  about why women haven’t achieved more in the highest levels of business and government.  Take a look at her TED talk.

It seems like she was hoping this book would allow her a platform to flush out her ideas about “women, work, and the will to lead” more thoroughly.  Some are calling this book a new “feminist manifesto,” a modern day Vindication of the Rights of Women (I love that book!) or the Feminine Mystique (I like that one, too).

Here’s the thing: a beautifully written call to arms to American women this book is not.  It’s not a highly-intellectualized, academic work about the role of women either.  In fact, it is a super-readable, totally understandable book that outlines, chapter by chapter, the things that women (and men) do to keep true equality in the workplace from being realized.  More specifically, why women aren’t “sitting at the table” in more board rooms and places of real power.

There were a few things I loved about this book:

  • I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  For the few days I was reading this book I found myself thinking about it while I was reading it, in the morning when I woke up, and while I was eating my sandwich at lunch.  It wasn’t that I was eager to get back to reading it, it’s just that it really made me think.  Unfortunately I was never really able to articulate what it was making me think about, or what I really thought about her message.  It is a rare thing for me to be tongue-tied, but this book left me just that.  What does that mean exactly? I’m not sure, but I do know that if people are talking/thinking about your work you must be doing something right.
  • Her passion.  Ms. Sandberg clearly has a passion for women and leadership.  Her energy and dedication to her own professional achievement, and now the achievement of other women is impressive.  While I’m not convinced that her book will spark another wave of feminism, I think hers is an important voice in our culture right now.  I am hopeful that young women will read her book and consider her ideas.
  • Her sound bites.  Ms. Sandberg offers up a few motivational passages that reportedly hang on the office walls of Facebook.  My favorite: Done is better than perfect.  So many of us get hung up on perfection (which of course is elusive) that we don’t get much done.  Ms. Sandberg is clearly someone who gets LOTS done, and it’s nice to know that she doesn’t expect perfection.
  • Her honesty.  While reading the first two-thirds of the book, I kept wondering when she was going to talk about dealing with other women.  Meaning: the moms in the school drop-off line who think she is a b*$#ch and a terrible mom.  I can hear the parking lot posse now: “She’s never home!” “She’s so full of herself” and “Why did she even bother to have kids if she’s not going to be the one to raise them?”  Finally, on page 167 she writes about this issue:

Stay-at-home mothers can make me feel guilty and, at times, intimidate me.  There are moments when I feel like they are judging me, and I imagine there are moments when they feel like I am judging them.  But when I push past my own feelings of guilt and insecurity, I feel grateful.  These parents – mostly mothers – constitute a large amount of the talent that helps sustain our schools, nonprofits, and communities.

There was something I didn’t love about this book, too:

  • It made me tired.  This just about sums up my feeling about the book as a whole.  The entire time I was reading it I felt tired and like a huge slacker.  Ms. Sandberg has clearly accomplished a lot professionally, and has done so through hard work and long hours.  She wants to see other women do this too.  She wants us “sitting at the table” and participating more equally at the highest levels of business and government.  I whole-heartedly agree.  The only problem was that I was so worn out just by reading her book, I was left with zero energy to change the world into a better place.  I am pretty sure that Ms. Sandberg wouldn’t accept tiredness as an excuse for not “leaning in” to my career, or not helping other women do so; unfortunately it’s all I’ve got.

When I asked a colleague whether she had read “Lean In,” she replied no, that she needed to do more “leaning out” in her life.  I didn’t ask her what she meant because I think I already know.  So many of us women (and men, to be fair) are so busy working, caring for children and parents, volunteering, exercising, paying bills, and squeezing in a few hours sleep that changing the gender dynamics around us just falls off the to-do list.

As I was really starting to feel lousy about how little I do in comparison to Ms. Sandberg in the fight for gender equality, I received this email from her “team” in response to an interview request I sent:

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Looks like Ms. Sandberg does a little leaning out, too.

 

 

To read more about Lean In, Ms. Sandberg’s non-profit dedicated to supporting women click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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