Sitting in an meeting I was observing for work, I looked around at the pondering faces of leadership consultants, all two-three times my age. Their questions began overlapping with others’ reflections, and any chance for clarity seemed to be drifting father away.
After thinking of a related explanation involving advertising agencies, I debated whether I should jump in, considering I wasn’t invited as a participant. By the time I convinced myself I was qualified enough to be sitting at the table and needed to lean in, the conversation had escalated and despite my attempts to interject, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
Rather than accepting defeat or regretting trying, I waited for a time of transition and told the man who had started the conversation my perspective from the creative/strategic communications world. Nodding thoughtfully, he thanked me for offering the insight.
Regardless of details, it’s the fear of being wrong that glues your arms to your sides or your lips to a crease. The interaction with the one consultant and positive self-talk I used to motivate me to be involved was inspired by the Sheryl Sandberg novel, Lean In.
One of my favorite things about this book, which has been on the tip of many tongues for two and half years, is seeing how it resonates with others. For me, it played a significant role in the development of my professional life, as I stopped envying others’ experience and started pursuing and creating opportunities for myself.
On the other hand, some say it excluded different socio-economic classes that may not have the job stability to demand more responsibility or equal treatment. They also say there is no advice for breaking down initial barriers when entering the workforce.
A dear friend that always challenges me to see the world through a different lens, pointed out, “By telling women to ‘lean in’ she is putting the blame on women for the patriarchal society we live in and that they need to do all the work to break the glass ceiling…[women] are not the problem.”
While I understand and mainly agree with these criticisms, I believe it’s this demand to get it exactly right, to be an expert, that keeps our hands down and lips closed.
Advice for navigating the corporate world did not and will not resonate and inspire every reader as much as it did for me, but that doesn’t mean Sandberg fell short. Not everyone’s goals or lifestyles involve pencil skirts or equal pay, and because of this, I don’t think her target was every individual of every lifestyle. We’re asking a lot of Sandberg to cover so much ground, rather than diving deep into what she knows from experience, which happens to mainly take place in the corporate world.
If we wait to have the knowledge of every single piece of the puzzle before taking action, it results in a lack of confidence in your ability to create change, to take risks, and to create your own future.
Furthermore, even if we did wait for all the data and qualitative research, it’s human experience that trumps all. It’s when others express their perspective, their truth, that we make these lasting connections; not when they regurgitate what they learned from a book. For me, writing and publically posting my blog is my way to continue combating the voices that tell you to be smaller and fly under the radar, where there’s no risk of being wrong.
Whoever you credit to the shift, and there are many to thank, there has been a passion sparked that has removed negative connotations of the f word. It’s allowed more men and women to have conversations about feminism unapologetically; case in point, the recent Golden Globes.
Recognizing that nothing and no one will ever perfectly hit the mark, it’s our responsibility to highlight strengths to inspire others to build upon them, and illuminate shortcomings to empower other individuals to fill the gap. In my opinion, that’s leaning in, too.