Lean In (or what's stopping you?)

I thought it meant that I should ask for more help. I thought it meant that there is power in numbers.

What does Lean In mean to you?

I saw her on CNN in the Phoenix Airport. I was waiting on a delayed flight, and I heard her speak of women in the workforce. I heard her speak of her own experience of learning to lean in. I thought I knew all about what she was going on about. I probably don’t even need to read it, I thought to myself. What does Sheryl Sandberg have that I don’t?

And so, one day I thought maybe I needed more support. Maybe it was time to read Lean In.

Would it be worth the 20-odd dollars to read a corporate leader’s view on how I needed to find a woman’s circle, or how I needed to ask the people in my life to be my tribe, to stand up and open doors for me?  I was surprised that it was not about money, corporations nor meaningful group discussions.Spoiler: Yes it was worth it.

Little did I know that the phrase “Lean In” has nothing to do with me leaning on others. Silly girl.

Lean In – Because as a gender, as a cultural stereotype, as multi-tasking, nurturing human beings – Women tend to lean away from their professional potential, and their (if they have it) burning desire to be leaders (corporate or not). Sandberg implores that it’s time for more women to lean into their careers.

In reality, I feel this book could be a motivator for anyone who feels their dreams are squashed by situation or society.

I evidently don’t read book reviews. But I’m glad my ignorance stumbled me toward this quick read.

In book reviews – as we all remember from grade school – the toughest part is deciding what salient points to focus on. General or specific? Should I write from my perspective or stay objective? How can I keep it interesting?

So this is what I’ve decided upon: The 3 S’s  & the 5 Quotes.


1. Step up your game:

With anything in life – If you want it, you need to believe you will have it. There is determination in those eyes. Don’t look down. You need to trust that you will make mistakes. Many mistakes. And that does not make you less deserving of what you want. You do not need to be perfect to be great. Game changers need to learn how to deal with failure & get back up on the horse. The only way to fail is to step up your game and ask to be put on the spot. This lady and I were chatting about this months ago. She told me she learned early, when her brilliant Papa said to her “Fail fast Lauren, Fail fast”. If you want to be a leader of the home or workplace, you have to be willing to be in the spotlight, to take the criticism, to learn and let slide.

Keep advocating for yourself. Prepare yourself for the best possible outcome, but expect that you will fail. It’s a reverse axiom, I know – but it’s better.

Perform for the position you want, not the one you have. 

“Millennial women are less likely than millennial men to agree that the statement ‘I aspire to a leadership role in whatever field I ultimately work’ describes them very well. Millennial women were also less likely than their male peers to characterize themselves as ‘leaders’,  ‘visionaries’, ‘self-confident’ and ‘willing to take risks’.”

This is ridiculous. Step up your game ladies. In Business or not, what is going on here?

Thank you  Shane Koyczan.  We needed that.

Thank you Shane Koyczan. We needed that.

2. Superwoman is not real:

Gloria Steinem said it best (in this book): “You can’t do it all. No one can have two full-time jobs, have perfect children and cook three meals and be multi-orgasmic ’til dawn… Super woman is the adversary of the women’s movement”.

Because of the false impression that feminist power was supposed to liberate women and magically allow them 48 hours in a day to be everything to everyone, most women are left feeling like utter disappointments to themselves and society, unless they chose to ignore it and focus on family or career, solely.

We aren’t just keeping up with the Jetsons, we are mirroring a fictional superhero. But we don’t even have a phone booth to change in & out of costume. We have children pulling hair, spilling food, or partners asking for sex and dinner at the same time. Or we want sex, and we are too spun out managing a household and project deadlines to make time. We have a veritable glass ceiling that we don’t mind, because we’re just grateful that they allow us to show up. We are just fine being the secondary income.

Superwoman, even in DC comics, was an illusion. She was born from a blood transfusion from Superman. How patriarchal. And under deeper evaluation, she turns out to be a borderline, murderous psychopath, who is smiling kindly in high heels while she rips apart buildings. Also, she is 2-dimensional. We do not want to be superwoman.

In fact, the idea of superwoman is what encourages young women to lean away; To make subconscious decisions early in their career to “leave before they leave”. They can’t do it all, so they better not aim high – especially if they want to have children in the future.

In addition, inherently we are more prone to self effacing thoughts:

“Ask a man to explain his success and he will typically credit his own innate qualities and skills. Ask a woman the same question and she will attribute her success to external factors, insisting she did well because she ‘worked really hard’ or ‘got lucky’ or ‘had help from others’.
Men and women also differ when it comes to explaining failure. When a man fails, he points to factors like ‘didn’t study enough’ or ‘not interested in the subject matter’. When a woman fails, she is more likely to believe it is due to an inherent lack of ability. And in situations where a man and a woman each receive negative feedback, the woman’s self-confidence and self-esteem drop to a much greater degree. the internalization of failure and the insecurity it breeds hurt future performance, so this pattern has serious long-term consequences.”

It’s no wonder that modern women (who have the option) often choose family over career. We have been directed to the wrong role models and given troublesome scripts.

Instead of perfection, we should aim for sustainable and fulfilling. The right question is not “Can I do it all?” but “Can I do what’s most important for ME and my family?” (or my life – if you don’t have a family) - Sheryl Sandberg


3. Stop fighting:

It’s not about you. (Take a moment to let that sink in). Yes. This book is not about you. It’s not about me either. It’s about us – men and women. We need to stop tearing down the women who want to lead.Encouraging more women to enter the workplace is not a dismissal against any other choice. It’s a nudge, actually a tough push for women to lean in, no matter how hard it may be; For the male dominated forums to identify a woman’s leadership skills. If you’ve got the drive and dreams, your soul, heck my soul, needs you to step up.

  • For all of us to support those who feel the burning desire to prioritize their careers while having a family (or not).
  • For all of us to encourage women to go for the position they really want, rather than the mostreasonable position considering all the responsibilities on her plate.
  • For all of us to allow for visionaries and leaders to grow without fear of being  labelled a’bad mother’ - because we understand that sometimes a good mom forgets to make her son’s lunch on account of her hectic morning meeting, without fear that the laundry won’t get done - because we have supportive partners, without fear that we each will be silently judging the another woman’s choice – because we know it takes all types to make the world go round.

The more women we have as leaders in the workplace, the less we associate them with being female versions of male CEOs. The only reason we as a society can be hypercritical of women leaders, is precisely because there are so few.

Just because someone else is choosing to be a full time entrepreneur or a full time mama, does not make you less of a woman, or a less of a motivated individual. You do not need to defend what you have chosen. Perhaps though, if that urge arises, something inside of you is aching, because you wish you could have been everything to everyone. You can’t be, remember?

But what you can do – for yourself, and no one else – is make the choice that you want, not the choice that you feel you must. That way whatever path – business leader or home leader – your urge is to congratulate other women who have chosen for themselves, not to compare your choice to theirs.

Quotes from the book, that bear repeating:

1. 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. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter. – Sheryl Sandberg

Well, that pretty much says it all. In the first chapter, she  sums up the majority of what holds many of us back. Figuring that out is the easy part. Figuring out how to shift those internal dialogues in our professional lives is where the hard work is. Figuring out how to face those fears, even though we would rather lean away  – that is where we really grow.


 2. If you get offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on. – Eric Schmidt, Google.

This is probably one of the most commonly quoted statements from this book. For me, it has less to do with the  idea that I’m a guaranteed buy in for some rocket ship trip and more to do with my preference for rocket ships that are fun & exciting, and I like being fast.  As long as it is heading where I want to head, then yes, I’m on that rocket ship, general seating included. My personality tends to be the one that makes my own rocket ship anyway. But, the caveat is that honing in on where you are going is key. It all comes back to goal setting. If you know your deep internally motivated goals, then when someone hands you a golden ticket, you jump for the chance to start on your path.

Neil Gaiman says it best in his commencement speech:

Are you getting closer, or farther away from your mountain?


3. The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any – Alice Walker

Too often, we step back from our power – assuming that external validation comes from some giant judges panel in the sky, granting power to those who work hard, for those who are tireless, for those who struggle yet still make it, for those who shine in all facets.Reality check is that there is no one waiting to give you your award. You are amazing, and no one will notice if you don’t advocate for yourself.  It doesn’t need to be broadcast over the airwaves, but you have to feel it. It’s the only way you have the confidence to ask for what you want. No one gives you power, and no one takes it away, other than you.


4. I realized that searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming….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”. – Sheryl Sandberg

Mentoring is an urge, not found through application, nor fees. It is the modern day search for the guru. We never can seem to stop searching for someone else to be the answer.


5. Whoever has power takes over the noun – and the norm – while the less powerful get an adjective. – Gloria Steinem

Feminism is constantly evolving. I think it’s softer yet stronger than before. But in much of business, we are still an adjective. (Un?)fortunately, I don’t feel the need to scream for our rights anymore, but I certainly support the idea that we need to keep showing up.

Ladies – Be seen. Keep your hand up, sit at the table, stay focused, ask your village/partner/community to step up so that you can do what is most important for your soul.

Honestly support each other to be the leaders you know we can be.

modern womenThara Vayali