Sheryl Sandberg thinks women don’t “lean in” to our careers because we’re insecure, too busy breastfeeding, or afraid of male executives.
Nothing of the sort has ever stopped me in my career. I’m not leaning in because I just don’t want to. But this has waged an internal battle inside of me…
I have a perfectly good career and an awesome personal life but, how I interpret Sandberg’s message is, unless I’m achieving my greatest possible potential, I’m not doing enough. So even though I know objectively that I’ve been very successful, I have this tremendous guilt and anxiety because I know deep down that I’m actually capable of quite a bit more (“I could launch my own company if I really wanted to…”). The nagging pressure to do something more – something AMAZING – is always there, chipping away tiny pieces from my self-worth and my happiness.
Thanks to generations of women who blazed the trail before us, we’re fortunate to have all the personal and professional opportunity we could ever want. But ironically, we have so much opportunity that our generation now feels obligated to “have it all”, to go above-and-beyond, to “lean in”.
Why do we allow women like Sandberg to make us feel like failures if all we ever do in life is raise a happy little family and have a decent job in middle management? When did “having it all” become an obligation?
When did anything less than greatness become a failure?
I know, I know. The only judge that matters is one’s own self. Ultimately, it’s up to me whether or not I’m satisfied with my own life. I set my own bar for how I measure myself as a professional, as a mother, as a person. So when I catch myself in the I should be doing more to “lean in” spiral, convinced I’m only performing at 80% of my potential, my sane self chimes in and says “Wait a minute! You have a very happy marriage, three healthy, well-adjusted children, an MBA, a respectable, challenging and rewarding full-time job that earns you over six figures, you’re healthy and still look pretty good for an old 34 year old! Who’s to say you’re not killin’ it?” Even as I write that sentence, feelings of gratitude wash over me and I definitely feel proud of what I’ve accomplished in my life. But that tiny voice inside me never fully goes away. Still, you could launch your own company if you really wanted to…
The interesting question that I’m still wracking my brain and my soul over is, is this nagging pressure to do more a burning desire of my own or has it been put there by other outside influences? Would we all truly want to “have it all” if we hadn’t been raised to believe we should? Is it from a childhood of being told “you can be anything you want to be” combined with being told as an adult by people like Sandberg that it’s your obligation to aspire to great professional success? We’re talking CEO, first-woman-president, solve-world-hunger GREATNESS! (no pressure…)
It’s true, I often daydream about starting my own company; creating a product that changes the lives of millions and proving to myself that I’m as kickass as I think I maybe am… But I also enjoy having enough time, energy and mental capacity to eat dinner with my family, exercise, Netflix and chill at night with my husband… My professional motivation is on a neverending internal pendulum swing between “Go for it! Launch that company! You KNOW you can do it!” and “Ugh… Just cuz I could do it, do I really want to…?”
Afterall, Mother Teresa is quoted as having said “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” And who am I to argue with Mother Teresa?
I still don’t know if this internal pressure to do “something great” is self-imposed or externally influenced. But I do know this:
Leaning in (or out) is a personal choice
And even though I decide it’s not important to me to launch my own company or make Director by the time I’m 40, that doesn’t mean I’m a failure or I don’t care about my career. Or that I lack confidence. Or that I haven’t learned how to be successful in a man’s world. Or any other proverbial “glass ceiling”-ism you want to cite. I’m not leaning in because I just don’t want to.
If I turn out to be nothing more than a great mom, a loving wife, a good person, and a reliable middle manager with an average career, I’d say I’ve done pretty damn good.
Have you chosen to Lean Out? Or maybe you’re doing an amazing job of Leaning In! What do these terms even mean to you and your life? We want to hear your thoughts so Comment below! Subscribe above to receive future posts directly in your email. Visit and Like our Facebook page.