“I have never met a woman, or man, who stated emphatically, ‘Yes, I have it all.’ Because no matter what any of us has—and how grateful we are for what we have—no one has it all.”―Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
When I first read Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, I thought I had found my new bible on feminism for the corporate world. One of my favorite statistics Sheryl Sandberg used was that men are more likely than women to apply for jobs that they are not qualified for. I mentioned this to a girlfriend and it inspired her to apply for a development job at a prestigious museum. She had some experience, but not much was relevant to fundraising or managing donors. Amazingly, she got the job. After a 2-year assignment, she was able to find an even bigger role in the art world. This was proof to me that Sandberg was right about leaning in. I now wonder, “Can success at work inspire someone to work harder in other areas of their life?”
One of Sandberg’s ideas that grabbed my attention involved making career moves on a jungle gym instead of a corporate ladder. She wrote: “Ladders are limiting. Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours… presents a better chance for fulfillment.” I have found this to be true in my career. Some of my lowest paying jobs with lackluster titles have turned into the most fulfilling. Personally, I have also seen a direct correlation between my health and my enjoyment at work. If I like the people and the work I am doing, I go home capable of resting for the next day. I take better care of myself, even more, when I am enjoying my work because I want to impress my team with a sharp and well-rested mind. This means I miss less work due to stress-related illnesses because I am eating, sleeping, exercising, and relaxing in healthier and a more regulated manner.
However, I may be different from other women in my demographic. They may be striving to become a CEO at a Fortune 500. Lean In points out that being a CEO is a position that less than 5 percent of women hold. Unlike Sheryl and her elite female colleagues, I am not looking for fame and fortune in Silicon Valley.
In fact, I am not aiming to get to the “top of a jungle gym” at all. I am a Millennial who is trying to improve her skills, broaden her experience, and learn as much as I can in the fields that give me inspiration. In addition, I have learned that work doesn’t define everything about me and I find more meaning in other areas of my life. Even while I climb the jungle gym, I am not trying to be the best in comparison to others. I am trying to be the best version of me and always am trying to improve each day.
There are a few downsides to Sandberg’s chant for change. Sandberg seems to be telling women they need to act more like men in the professional world if they want to get ahead. The whole idea of leaning in is to be more assertive and a leader. What if not all women want this? Does this concept apply only to top executives, like Sheryl Sandberg, who is the COO of Facebook?
Another question was bothering me: Why is living a balanced life considered a woman’s problem? It would appear other countries are far ahead of the US in terms of maternity leave. For example, new moms in Finland get 3 years paid leave, Norwegian mothers get 91 weeks, Canadian mothers get 52 weeks, and women in the UK get 39 weeks when they have children. It is not only a “nice” idea to give new parents more paid time to bring their newborn into the world with love and care, but it’s also economical because it leads to “better job performance and retention among mothers, increased family incomes, and increased economic growth.”
Lastly, Sandberg didn’t completely address the problematic issue of women who want to start families, who value their family time, and who want a career. These women may encounter difficulties with sustaining their lifestyles and budgets or even keeping their jobs. Unfortunately, America remains the only country in the developed world that does not mandate that employers must offer paid leave for new mothers. With other recent developments in the social and political spheres related to women’s rights in America, I have realized a lot of the changes I wish to see in my lifetime may not happen. I would love to see equal pay for equal work, and for LGBTQIA women to feel safe to be themselves in their work environments, at home, or walking alone at night. Paid family leave seems like a small price to pay for women’s rights compared to the bigger picture at hand, and the bigger struggle our gender faces. However we get there as women, whether it is jungle gyms or ladders or no careers, I hope we learn to support each other along the way.