Leaning is the First Step

I read Lean In awhile ago and promised I’d write up a review since it spoke to me, my situation and the struggles I, and most of the women I know (working moms, single moms, at home moms, women without children…), face on a daily basis. But, life gets in the way from such high-minded posts that warrant citations and research and balance. So, screw it. I let it go. And, frankly, plenty of folks have been writing about Sheryl Sandberg and her book and its merits and failings that you can certainly do the research on your own.

Here is what I will say: read it. Is it the feminist manifesto of our generation? Nope. Does it address every woman’s situation and how to solve it? Not at all. Did it look at what number of women get frustrated with the corporate culture and seek flexibility in starting their own businesses, running for local offices, serving in influential volunteer positions? I wish it had. What it is, is a clear dissemination of personal experience backed by sociological research that addresses one woman’s observations and experiences. I believe we can all learn from that experience. It doesn’t mean that I think we all are going to go out and aim for the C-suite, nor do I think that was her point. What I do think it does, or at least it did for me, was point out areas that I related to and has influenced how I think about particular situations.

For instance, a recent announcement at work was approaching. The event was to take place in Denver. An agency had been hired to handle event details, our marketing team was on top of visual details, and I was to handle media relations. I really wanted to go, but was terrified. It was my first work trip in more than 7 years. I wasn’t afraid of the travel or being away from the kids (a night in a hotel by myself? Hello?!), but I was afraid I’d somehow lost my work chops. I went back and forth in my head about whether I should go or could handle the work from Atlanta. I nearly talked myself out of going. Finally, I decided to face that fear and go. And it was a great event.

The fear I felt was silly in that I knew I’d have fun, I knew I could do the job and I knew I had the babysitter and hubby at home making sure the home fires were burning and the kids weren’t the ones responsible for setting them. But feel it, I did, because I had a blank space on my resume taunting me, needling at me from the inside making me think that, indeed, I couldn’t do it.

The concept of “leaning in,” of focusing on what you want, standing up to obstacles (like fear) that stand in the way, speaking up, asking for help, realizing your self-worth, abolishing those demons that whisper in your ears nasty phrases like “maybe you can’t,” “maybe you shouldn’t,” “you aren’t good enough,” “someone will realize you aren’t as good/smart/talented as you think you are,” is something we should all be reminded of whether you are hoping to go back to work after an absence raising kids, demand a flexible situation with your boss, seeking a seat on a local volunteer organization, starting a small business, writing a novel after the kids go to bed, running for school board or aiming for the top job in a Fortune 500 company.  Leaning in can mean standing up for your marriage and family by creating better partnerships with your spouse or recognizing the importance of date night or suggesting tech-free time on weekends. Leaning in can mean letting go of your preconceived notions of what work/life balance is or should be. Leaning in can mean letting in help from family, friends, nannies, colleagues. Leaning in can mean leaning back and finding the right path for you.

And that’s where I find myself now.

Growing up, I always answered “writer” to the what do you want to be when you grow up question. Yet, even as a child, I felt a nagging tug in my gut that it was as frivolous an answer as astronaut or president. Sure, some of the kids in your class might end up on such prestigious or adventurous paths, but the majority would surely be regular folks with respectable jobs and content families at suburban soccer fields on Saturday mornings. We want our kids to dream, however, and imagine a future filled with endless possibilities. My name on a book spine was mine.

And then I grew up.

I never took a creative writing class in college. Never even considered it. And looking back, I can’t even tell you why. I don’t think my parents ever pressured me or insinuated it was impractical. Somewhere along the way, however, I focused on the dependable, the certainty, the safe. Luckily, I found the journalism school – I could write with a paycheck. The public relations track was even better – I could foster that creative side with writing skills and perhaps be satisfied.

And I have been. I love PR. I enjoy solving problems, finding the right avenues to solve them, communicating with people, sharing stories, seeing our news in print. But it’s not the writing I dreamed of. It’s not the writing that inspired me as a second grader with her nose stuck in a Beverly Cleary book all afternoon. It’s not the writing I still long to do.

But there’s that little demon voice again. “You can’t write a novel,” it whispers. “You don’t have time,” it teases. “It’s too much work,” it whines.

The hubby and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary this past week. We tend to spend those dates looking back and assessing the last year, looking forward to the next, wanting to support each other to succeed as individuals while also bolstering our marriage as the backbone of our family. And, of course, my writing dreams came up again over dinner. We talked a lot about the fears I have, the mental blocks, the defenses the demons have built up to prevent me from taking action when I finally said, “I don’t know why I don’t just do it. I’m already not a published author, so why am I afraid to write a book that might not be published? At least then I can say I did it.”

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about that statement. Writing may not bring me fame or fortune or movie deals or the New York Times best seller list, but it brings me joy. So why don’t I just go for it? I’m no worse off. At the end of the day, I may never see my name on a book spine, but it’s already not there and I’m pretty happy with life as it is.

So, I’m leaning in. Leaning in to the demons and telling them, “I can do it,” “I’ll make time,” and “Of course it’s work, that’s why I’m doing it.”

Strangely enough, on that flight out to Denver for the work trip, I banged out three pages of what I think is the start of something interesting. I like that saying yes to one part of my life didn’t mean no to the rest.

The best part of leaning in is that it moves you forward.

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