I think the conversation Sandberg has started is a worthy and important one. But, I haven’t added my two cents to it yet because, for me, the question of leaning in or not is a simple one to answer.
From my perspective, leaning in, leaning out, leaning up or down — all of these things are privileges that are afforded to both men and women when they are healthy and have enough security in their lives to be able to consider multiple choices.
I do not.
I literally couldn’t lean in to my career even if I wanted to.
I have a particularly obnoxious form degenerative disc disease and have had issues with chronic pain, as well as multiple fusions, in and around my spine for 15 years. So that has become the primary filter through which I view and make every choice in my day, every day in my life.
I stop work when my body tells me I must (which is always too soon for my taste.) There is no option to negotiate. There is no seat at the table in which it is more comfortable for me to sit.
Some things are just magically not an option for me anymore — like pulling an all nighter to meet a deadline, getting lost in the flow of writing for hours on end, or traveling across the globe to expand my brand presence.
Yes, there are still choices to be made each day — endless miles of choices. But, above those choices, there is a heavy ceiling of reality that I cannot raise or shatter.
I share this not to belittle the importance of Sandberg’s discussion of finding work/life balance and gender equality in the workplace. And I certainly don’t share it to solicit your sympathy. (The restrictions fate has laid upon my doorstep have taught me more about efficiency, perseverance, focus and time management than I would have ever thought possible.)
I share this merely to remind you that you wake each day with a gift — you get to choose whether you want to lean in today or not.
And you likely go through your whole day ignoring that gift.
You will probably continue to ignore it until the day comes when…
- You sit in front of the doctor and receive a challenging diagnosis, or…
- You or your spouse lose your job and your career focus is driven solely by need and not just want, or…
- Your baby is born with special needs that you may have to attend to for the rest of your life, or…
- You get into a car accident and find yourself injured and under-insured, or…
- Your home town is brought to its knees by a natural or man made crisis.
We don’t get to make all the choices in life. Sometimes the choices make us.
This is not because we’re bad people or cursed or unworthy or women or men. It’s because bad things just happen sometimes…just as often as good things do.
So when I talk to my daughter about leaning in as she grows up, it won’t just be to teach her to raise her hand in class or negotiate a better salary for herself at her first job. I’ll also encourage her to jump out of an airplane, confess her love to a boy or quit her job because she has no passion for it anymore.
I’ll encourage her to lean in to her happiness first, and her success, second. (Because the two are not always directly related.)
Life is a precarious web of roads and dead ends, paved by circumstance, genetics, fate and moxie. So, you must “lean in” to all of it, my friends — your life, your work, your family — as far as you can, as gently as you can, and for as long as you can.
Not because you want to. Not because you have to. But simply because that is all there is.