Several years ago, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg published a manifesto for professional women. After explaining how often women limit themselves professionally because of their family obligations--and expected future obligations--Sandberg urged women to be like her, to lean into their careers. They shouldn’t limit themselves to dermatology for example, where they can expect 9-to-5 hours, if they want to be a neurosurgeon. Women should pursue whatever career goal they have, without worrying about its actual or potential impact on loved ones. They shouldn’t keep quiet during team meetings. Women should advocate for themselves in the workplace and negotiate for their full worth.
I related to what Sandberg wrote, thinking back to a conversation I had an undergraduate. I sat around a conference table with 5-6 female juniors and seniors who were all interested in pursuing doctoral studies. At the top of the table was a current female doctoral student. We peppered her with questions about work-life balance. Was she married? Did she have children? When would be the best time to start a family while pursuing a Ph.D.? Was it best to do right after completing your coursework and comprehensive exams, or should you wait until making inroads on your thesis research and writing? None of us had serious boyfriends, or were even dating. Yet we were contemplating professional decisions based on our fertility.
There was one part of Lean In that troubled me though. I had a hard time when Sandberg explained how she was able to lean in. She talked about her supportive husband who carried his share of childcare responsibilities, nannies and household help. She also was able to rely on nearby family members to pitch in when needed. Instead of worrying about cooking dinner for her husband and sons each night, she ordered takeout meals and used delivery service to restock supplies. My favorite anecdote was her pumping breast milk while on a conference call—behind closed doors, of course.
After reading that one, I knew Sandberg was speaking to a very specific population of women—those with significant incomes who were far enough up the corporate ladder to command an office with a door. McDonald’s line workers don’t have offices where they can pump in private or the luxury of 3-6 months of paid maternity leave. I’m a far cry from McDonald’s, but I didn’t have a private office with a door. I made a good salary at my corporate and district jobs, and still had a cubicle in an open-seating plan. I never could have pumped on the phone at my desk if I had wanted.
I found something else even more bothersome. Sandberg never seemed to stop leaning in. I didn’t notice her slowing down or taking breaks to pause and appreciate her accomplishments and how good her life was. Nor did she seem to believe in an outside power that might not want her to lean in to a particular job at a particular time. Sandberg is Jewish, and if I remember correctly, actively practices her faith. But I got the impression her God would never want her to just be; she always had to be climbing up the next rung on the ladder.
When I started my Circle of professional women, I called it “Lean In With Power and Grace.” I believe in going after one’s dreams wholeheartedly. But I also know you can go too hard. You can burn out, or you can get ahead of where you are supposed to be. You can get ahead of the plan the Divine has for your life. When that happens, you can pretty much guarantee He will slow you down and get you back on track.
When I work with my coaching clients, I employ a simple but powerful, three-step methodology:
As important as it is to dream and plan, I think surrendering is essential to transforming your life. At least it was for me. Back in January 2009, my five-year plan included another grad degree, a house, and a yoga studio. When January 2014 hit, the only one I had achieved was the house. I realized that I needed more time to practice before I was ready to complete a yoga teacher training program. Then I needed time to develop my skills and grow my client base. Six months later, I was given the opportunity to open a studio, and I turned it down. I knew I wasn’t ready to lease 1,000-square feet and have a monthly rent in the thousands. So, I surrendered the deadline while continuing to work towards the goal. I kept looking at spaces and praying, walking through the neighborhood where I wanted the studio to be one day. Weeks later, I was offered two additional locations for a yoga studio at a much lower rate. That’s when I acted. It was later than I had anticipated, but the timing was just right.
I’ve decided to take on a few new coaching clients this fall. If you are feeling stuck, and need to figure a way out of the rut, life coaching can be just what you need. Or if you know where you want to go, but are having a hard time getting there, private sessions can help you figure out what is standing in your way and develop a plan to overcome your obstacles. Some of you may not have any idea of where you want to go or what you want to do with your life, coaching can be a great way to explore your skills and interests and get a better sense of where they may converge in the dream career. Check out my website to learn more about my coaching services and schedule your complimentary consultation.
Returning to Sheryl Sandberg, she too has come to the realization that she was a bit off in her book. In May 2015, Sandberg’s husband had a crazy accident while they were on vacation, and passed away unexpectedly. Facebook gave her plenty of time off to grieve, but eventually she went back to work. That’s when Sandberg realized how importance her spouse was to making it all happen. In June, she wrote: “When the circumstances allow, I believe as much as ever in leaning in.” The blanket call to lean in at all times in all circumstances was gone, replaced with the recognition that timing matters, and sometimes things are completely out of your control.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.