I just finished Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In – a fascinating work. While most of her arguments and anecdotes were not new information to me (have heard and read them elsewhere), two particular passages from the book struck me:
From page 132 (emphasis mine):
It’s not only working parents who are looking for more hours in the day; people without children are also overworked, maybe to an even greater extent…After the married women spoke about how hard it was to balance their lives, the single woman interjected that she was tired of people not taking her need to have a life seriously. She felt that her colleagues were always rushing off to be with their families, leaving her to pick up the slack. She argued “My coworkers should understand that I need to go to a party tonight – and this is just as legitimate as their kids’ soccer game – because going to a party is the only way I might actually meet someone and start a family so I can have a soccer game to go to one day!” I often quote this story to make sure single employees know that they, too, have every right to a full life.
The gut reaction upon reading this passage (since I could not do the Dance of Joy right there on Metro North) was, “YES. THIS.” In my previous life in Lawyer Land, I worked in a firm that prided itself on being a family friendly environment with flexible work arrangements for support staff with families, and (until the policy was abused) a very liberal attitude towards children in the office. I was never discriminated outright in that job as a single, childless woman and was happy to work in a firm where family was as important as your billable hours. In the legal industry, it is very hard for women to find that career/family balance. However, I was not without my self-doubt. Was the fact that I wanted to leave early to pursue graduate education or take a day off to go to a program at the Museum of Modern Art less important than my colleagues who had to take time off because their children were sick or had an unexpected snow day? What was being said behind my back? Was it affecting how people perceived my work ethic?
I’m in an office now with much different demographics than that law firm, but when I have those moments of doubt about my right to a full life (even if that life is without children), I know that I deserve that right.
From page 164:
The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results. In 2004, four female executives at Merrill Lynch started having lunch together once a month. They shared their accomplishments and frustrations. They brainstormed about business. After the lunches, they would all go back to their offices and tout one another’s achievements. They couldn’t brag about themselves, but they could easily do it for their colleagues. Their careers flourished and each rose up the ranks to reach managing director and executive office level. The queen bee was banished, and the hive became stronger. (Source)
Search back to my earlier posts on gender in libraries and you’ll be able to keenly sense my despise for the attitude we have in our profession for eating our young, being the Mean Ones (Girls and Guys) – in short, a cutthroat attitude. Now, this should not be interpreted as “don’t be competitive” – finding a job, and staying good at that job to advance and allow you to take the next steps in your career, require a certain level of drive. (Remember: THERE IS NO SILVER SPOON.) But, don’t let that drive take over your life. You will burn many bridges you can’t afford to lose.
As you know, I ran for ALA Council for the third consecutive year, this year with an informal ticket of candidates. I would be lying through my teeth if I said I wasn’t going through anxiety about election results, and a massive amount of self-doubt about my ability to win an election. I would also be lying if I said I wouldn’t be upset if I didn’t win – because I worked my keister off (along with my fellow ticket members) to campaign for the seat. (I now have keen awareness of the mental, physical, and emotional toll that Presidential candidates go through – even for an association office, the campaign work was tiring*.) What I will not do is let that anger and sadness dictate my life, especially to my fellow candidates – building each other up does so much more than taking each other down. We all pledged this evening to support whomever from our caucus won, give virtual hugs and pep talks to those that didn’t, and not let jealousy, bitterness, and spite over one election dictate the rest of our professional lives. (And then go out for shawarma afterwards.**)
Lean In is not without its controversy (see this, this, and this – and that’s just a very small sample set), but it is a fascinating read that affected me in many ways. I hope to continue expounding on Sandberg’s thoughts.
* True story: Back in December 2008, I happened to be visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art the same day as Bill and Hillary Clinton – and came face to face with the former Secretary of State. She looked lovely, but she also looked old. You could tell that the 2008 primary took a toll on her in many ways. After this ALA election cycle, I have empathy for what she went through. (As for Bill – he looked GREAT. Veganism looks good on him.)
** ALA Election results are posted on 3 May 2013, the same day as the United States release of Iron Man 3. The shawarma jokes, they write themselves.