Originally posted March 22, 2013
The Board of Directors asks its last two candidates for the CEO position, “Which comes first, your kids or this job?”
The woman responds, “My family.”
The man responds, “Trick question. You’d never ask a guy that.”
Before you can read Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” you need to accept a cold hard truth—until men grow a uterus, there’s no such thing as being equal. You can look at that two ways—it’s unfair because women are expected to do more, or awesome in that women can do everything a guy can (except pee gracefully while standing) and more.
Sandberg addresses the question above—that men don’t face the same expectations women do—and more in her bestselling manifesto on women, work, family and balance. But if you commit to reading it, you should know that this book is directed solely at those women with the drive, the means and the good fortune to truly lean in.
And that’s my only problem with the book—Sandberg devotes a fair amount of real estate on the page to making sure you understand that SHE understands if you’re a single mom, married to someone who is a low wage earner, a stay-at-home mom by choice, the mother of a child with special needs, caring for ill family members or just plain otherwise engaged anywhere else besides the office, then her opinion is not directed at you. That’s too bad, because she makes a lot of valid points. Which is why I think all girls should read this while they’re still in high school and for at least some of them, still thinking about the larger choices of life.
My guess is a lot of people are coming to this book with an agenda—either to rally ’round the feminist cause, professional career women, or rally ’round the feminist cause, women who choose to make raising their children their primary role. There are people who just want to hate on her, and those who want to praise her.
“Lean In” is definitely going to appeal more to career women over those who have chosen—or need to—stay home. And as mentioned above, Sandberg makes that clear. But if that’s you, then listen up. Because girl is on a roll. And there were several Yoda-like lessons I think all girls should learn, regardless of where you sit at the “Stay at home” vs. “Go to office” table.
Your career is not a ladder: The concept of a jungle gym, rather than a ladder, opens the door for everyone—men and women—to think more creatively about their careers. Just because you off-ramp on one rung doesn’t mean you climb back on at the same spot. Or that a career with more flexibility isn’t an option. The book offers several great examples and had me thinking that just because I haven’t learned a specific skill doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t. Opportunity is half the battle in learning something new. Men rarely turn those chances down. Women do, a lot.
Don’t leave before you leave. I leaned back—way back—after having kids. And sometimes I wonder if I leaned back even earlier. I wanted kids. My husband did too. We tried for a while to have them. So for me, to not act aggressively toward furthering my career was just fine, because it was one less stressor when it came to making the decision to take a few years off after the birth of my third child. And this is where maybe, just maybe, I made a mistake. NOT in taking a break. I have no regrets there, and am totally OK with continuing to lean back as my kids get older. They need me now more than ever. It’s just that Sandberg very aptly points out that for a lot of women, on-ramping is a lot harder when you don’t absolutely love the job you left. If you hesitate to follow a professional passion, you can find yourself further behind in your career goals when you do return to work and less interested in staying.
Ignore the myth of having it all. Kids, no kids, career, husband, boyfriend, hobby—Sandberg would tell you that “having is all” is the worst. Maybe what you need to do is redefine what your “all” is, and instead, “aim for sustainable and fulfilling.” You can’t be all things to all people all the time, so why beat yourself up for it?
Again, and I can’t stress this enough—if you beat the drum the loudest for women who think we should all make our first and only priority our kids, then this isn’t the book for you. Respect that and move on. If you don’t have a partner, or even one that will make dinner occasionally, you should also avoid it. It isn’t that the advice isn’t valid, you’ll just be pissed you can’t apply it effectively. And I’ll be the first the say that even though Sandberg points out a lot of societal paradigms that make it extra hard for women to straddle both motherhood and a career, there isn’t too much time spent on how we can educate the next generation to think differently. But it’s food for thought—for you and for your daughter.