Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Lean in or Lean back

From her privileged perch atop the Facebook empire, Sheryl Sandberg is pulling an Oprah.

She's asking working women to Lean In, in her words, to her own brand of consciousness raising. According to the New York Times, she wants ambitious females to devote precious hours in their weekly schedule "to absorb the social science showing they are judged more harshly and paid less than men; resist slowing down in mere anticipation of having children; insist that their husbands split housework equally; draft short- and long-term career plans; and join a “Lean In Circle,” which is half business school and half book club."

This sounds absolutely exhausting.

I watched Sandberg explain her vision on Katie yesterday. She took us through her own heroic struggle to have it all. She told us that it is possible to have a nice family, double degrees and rise to the top like so much silken cream.

It is possible, she said. Just do what I say and it will happen.

Seems to me we've heard it all before. I'm a child of the 70s, and I worshipped Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem. I had my own subscription to Ms Magazine.

I was a true believer.

It all seemed to work. I was successful. I got my nut early.

At 22, I was working as a reporter at a newspaper in the Nation's Capital. At 25, I found myself in the Prime Minister's Office. Back then, I had swagger. I had confidence. And I was smart.

But those qualities didn't get me the work.

Fact is, I got ahead because I was funny, nice looking and I had boobs -- a combination that gets you only so far. I tried it the other way, being professional, but nobody took me seriously.

I realized I couldn't handle the professional world.

I found it alien, perplexing, limiting.

The creative mind has no place in an office with its strange smells and water-cooler chatter. The modern business environment devours creativity as if it were eating a Kobe steak.

As a woman, I felt crushed by the meanness and indifference. I was patronized by men and isolated by women.

So I did what a lot of women do.

 Instead of leaning in, I leaned back.

Suddenly a world of possibilities opened up. I split my time between raising kids and building a successful consulting practice. As an MRS, people suddenly took me seriously. I talked they listened.

At least that's what I thought at the time.

Turned out, I was only getting work because my husband was a big shot -- a person who could do much for the careers of others. Hiring his wife brought them closer to the light, befriending her gave them extra points in the master's universe.

Essentially, instead of hiring me for me, they were helping to line his pocket and feather his nest.

I didn't know. I was in love. I lacked insight.

I drank the Koolaid.

And then it all fell apart.

Suddenly, I was a single mom with no friends. My husband had taken his show on the road and I became collateral damage.

The contracts dried up, as my old colleagues took my husband's side.

My career was Gone Baby Gone.

Suddenly, people were whispering about me. Saying I was crazy.

I wasn't crazy, I was desperate.

Hungry, angry, lonely tired.

My best laid plans were dust in the wind.

I wonder if my younger self would have benefited from Ms. Sandberg's wisdom.

It's all good and well to have a plan, to operate with the benefit of research. But some of us choose the path of passion over reason. Our careers fall victim to our ovaries. Or to men telling their stories walking.

Some of us are not cut out for Ms. Sandberg's world.

Some of us are just lucky to survive at all.


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