Lean In – Women, Work, And The Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

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So I caved in. I usually don’t rush out to buy a book to read because of hype or controversy but as a working mom trying to establish a career in today’s corporate world, this one is just too tempting.

I heard a lot about this book before I read it, mostly criticisms. After I got it, I devoured the book in a few days (trust me, this is fast when you have a 4 yr. old, self-perceived super hero at home and one in the belly). It was an easy read. So the verdict? I have to say I loved it!

One of the biggest criticism was that Sheryl was giving advice to ordinary women when she herself is nothing but ordinary. She went to Harvard, got amazing internships, and was able to have a career and a family partially due to the great amount of money she and her husband made (so she could hire help). 

I actually don’t see this as a bad thing. While it is true that she came from an impressive gene pool (just check out what her siblings do for a living), and she was extremely smart and focused from a very young age, it does not take away the advice she wanted to give.

I am an extremely ordinary woman, who currently holds a non-managerial job nowhere near the executive level, and I can’t even afford to have a cleaning lady or babysitter for date nights, I still found some of her advice useful and easy to relate. I focused on the actual advice she was giving, rather than her privileged situation. I think we can learn from anyone, not just people in the exactly same circumstances as us.

Here are a few points I really liked:

1. Women put themselves less out there at work. This is true from my own observation although there are always exceptions. I do find men appear to be more confident and always make sure they get their face time.

This is something I have been working on myself. It is great we try to prove ourselves through hard work, but the truth is, if nobody sees you and knows what you did, it is hard to get ahead.

2. Don’t leave until you leave. This one I am particularly guilty of. Sheryl points out that many women start to scale back way before they even have a family in anticipation of becoming a mother in the future, and that results in many lost opportunities.

I got engaged in 2007 and I knew my husband loved kids and wanted to have one sooner than later. I started gravitate toward positions that were more 9 to 5, without people management responsibilities and I wasn’t even married yet. I already assumed that fast career advancement was not doable if I became a mom.

Some women intentionally choose to slow down their careers because that is what they want, then that’s great. But I laid low because I just assumed I could not do it before I even tried. It took me 4 years to reevaluate and apply for a promotion. Now in hind sight, I did not have worse work life balance because of this promotion and I wish I had done it earlier.

3. Ditch the guilt trip. I truly believe this is in every mom’s DNA. We are programmed to feel guilty no matter what. From my doctor friends who do such amazing work to save lives and still manage to spend every night entertaining/breastfeeding their little ones, to the single mom friends who are the only financial source to their kids, no one escapes this “g” word.

Then there is me.  My mom worked her whole life, so did my grandmother, my aunts and every other woman in my family. I am proud of my mom’s work (a research scientist) and I admire my aunt’s drive (a physical therapist who now owns an acupuncture clinic) and my grandmother’s work ethic. I learned so much from these women and yet I still feel the sting when dropping off my son at daycare.

I am working on taking Sheryl’s advice on this: believe in the choice I made, and believe in ourselves. I know both my husband and I spend as much quality time as possible with our son and he is thriving. I hope one day he will be as proud of his mom just like how I am proud of mine.

Before I close this post for today, I just want to say that this last point is not just for working moms. For those fabulous stay at home moms I know, they sometimes have doubts whether they’ve made the right decision as well. I think we need to believe in the choice we’ve made and drown out the little negative voices, because we know in our hearts what is best for our children. Be confident, our kids will notice it!

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