Ahh Lean In. It would be hard to overstate my love for this book, or my respect for its author, Sheryl Sandberg. Lean In was the book of 2013. I know of multinational firms that have bought a copy for each of their partners. If I were the boss, I would do the same.
Lean In is a thoroughly researched and reasoned account of work and leadership. It is about women. But I do not think it is just for women, as anyone could benefit from its lessons. Sheryl Sandberg is now the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook, having forged a formidable career in Silicon Valley.
‘Lean In’ the book followed a 2010 TED talk Sandberg gave on the topic of ‘Why we have too few women leaders’. Sandberg’s observation was that too many women are leaning out of their careers, too early and for too long, resulting in a tipping of the power scales towards the tie-wearing men-kind. Sandberg looks at why this is happening, based on personal anecdotes and hard data, and maps practical solutions to help women Lean In to their full potential. Her TED talk was so widely viewed, and adored, that Sandberg decided to translate her ‘Lean In’ message in to book form.
In the book, Sandberg’s notion of ‘Leaning In’ is explained from about 8 different angles. I will write about these separately, for none is more important than the other. But one that really resonated with me was this: ‘Don’t leave before you leave’.
When Sandberg says ‘Don’t leave before you leave’ she is pointing to the problem that many people, particularly women, make decisions about their work or life far too early. Long before they actually need to. And in doing so they miss out on opportunities, growth and success. And for what?
Sandberg uses the example of a female worker who came to her stressing about how she would manage work and life when she had children. Sandberg asked her if she planned to have children soon. She replied that no, she did not. In fact she confessed that she did not yet have a husband, nor a boyfriend to speak of. As Sandberg says, she was severely jumping the gun.
But she was doing what many people, especially women, do. They think long and hard about the trade-offs they will face in pursuing their personal and professional goals. Sandberg says that when it comes to integrating work and family, planning too far ahead can close doors rather than open them. She says that commonly, and to damaging effect, people don’t make one big decision to leave. Instead, they make lots of small decisions along the way, which slow them down and reverse their progress, all in a premature attempt at planning ahead. They leave, before they leave.
I’ve seen this happen among my friends. Not so much the planning for a family, but the planning for some future version of themselves. The one that wants to move to London, or another part of Australia, or work at an NGO, or just generally step off their current path into something different. But not just yet.
I’ve seen this constant uncertainty stop friends from taking up opportunities. From applying for jobs or fighting for promotions. Because they don’t want to move just in case they might decide to leave. They think, I’m happy in this role for now, while I decide what to do.
This always baffles me, because I think, what if that new job or that promotion is the very thing that they need? What if it is the very thing that will make them want to stay?
When I graduated from university I moved to a new city to take up a graduate position. I came with no end date in mind and got straight into making the most of my new city. I gave myself over to this place and found many, many reasons to stay.
Other colleagues, now friends, moved here at the same time. Some of them had every intention to go back to their home city after one or two years. Because they were going to leave, they felt less inclined to invest in making friends, or getting involved in the city, because they knew their days here were numbered. They left, before they left.
This may have held them back from applying for a promotion or taking a new job. Something that may have been a good move for them, and may have left them wanting to stay.
Now forgive me for getting cheesy here but if missing out on a job because you have mentally moved on is bad, missing out on a chance at love is much, much worse. Imagine if you met a beautiful person with whom you felt a strong connection. They lived in your city, but you were thinking about moving away some time soon. So you decided not to ask them out, or said no to a date. Instead of trying your chance at love, you decided to stay away. To avoid the potential heartbreak, or worse, potential long distance relationship.
If you had allowed yourself the chance, you may have found that that person changed everything. You may have found that you didn’t want to leave after all.
It is fitting that I write this, because it sort of happened to me! I came here with no intention to leave, but no intention to stay either. I was open to whatever work or life had in store for me. And I am so glad I was.
Because one year ago today, I said yes to brunch with the darlingest boy. It was our first date and he is now my best friend. I did not leave before I left. I was here, and I found my reason to stay.
Thought Leader(s): Sheryl Sandberg
Source(s): Sandberg, S (2013) ‘Lean In’, Random House.