Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, addressed Barnard College graduates at their commencement this year. She spoke about the ways women make “small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them” to leave the work force.
She referred to it as “leaning back,” all the ways women compromise their decisions about work preparation and opportunities – med school specialties, law school promotions, etc. – before they even get to do them, so as to create space and time for relationships and realities that don’t yet exist.
She urges women instead to “lean in. Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That’s the only way when that day comes, you’ll even have a decision to make” (NYTimes, A23).
Stay with me a moment . . . I’m making a connection here . . .
I like to change up my laptop’s background image. When I find a compelling image, I exchange it for the last one. Typically, I’m changing images every week or two.
Right now, though, there’s an image I’ve kept up for a bit longer. It’s the latest photo of Steve Jobs. Why? Because that photo scares the hell out of me. He is skeletal. He looks near death. As most of us are aware, he has pancreatic cancer. Aside from his recent public appearance, he hasn’t been in the public eye of late. I have the feeling that he’s not doing all that well.
Whenever I get scared about recent choices I’ve made . . . to leave a stable and comfortable job, to leave a city I love, to pursue a pricey degree in a different city for skills I am eager to learn, but with which I have little experience, without knowing exactly what I’ll do next, I take a long, hard look at that image of Steve Jobs on my screen.
Why? Because there is no dress rehearsal. This is it. Next to sickness and death, I think I’ll take the fear of new challenges and a relatively unknown employment future. It beats the hell out of stability and boredom.
It also beats the hell out of “leaning back” and compromising. When I look around the room at my MIT Sloan Fellows colleagues and see how few of us women are in the room, I know I’m “leaning in” and that there is no “leaning back.” I also know that, like me, many of them don’t have the answers yet either. They, too, have done well in their fields and could easily have stayed and gotten even more comfortable. However, they recognized it was time to “lean in” and fight the tendency to compromise.
Here’s to “leaning in!”