Thursday, August 7, 2014
Book Review: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
Author: Sheryl Sandberg
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content Alert: Nothing I remember
When I first heard about Lean In about a year or so ago, I didn't want to read it. I knew it was a book I should read, because everyone was talking about it, but I thought it was a book that would make me feel bad. One of the things I'm really sensitive about is the fact that I'm a stay-at-home mom, but I have lots of ambition and drive. It's not useful to channel that ambition into my kids, and I often feel like I'm not doing enough with my brain (I felt this way particularly when my older kids were little and not as easy to talk to and I didn't have as many kids to keep me busy). These days, I'm so busy that I often spend all day ferrying kids back and forth in the car, and I find myself at ten o'clock at night, folding laundry in the bedroom, dead on my feet with exhaustion, and I realize that I haven't had a moment of alone time to thing all day long. I constantly feel guilty because I don't have the time to devote to my other, unpaid job as the editor of a literary magazine, but because it's unpaid and I always have toddlers underfoot, it seems to take last priority in my life. I'm a feminist in a family with very traditional gender roles, and it makes me feel like a hypocrite.
But I heard Sheryl Sandberg give a TED talk a few months ago (no, not THE TED talk that inspired the writing of the book in the first place, but a follow-up talk), and after I listened to how funny and down-to-earth and non-judgmental she sounded in the talk (which was basically about the process of writing the book and about taking the scary step as a female executive to be willing to talk about her family), I decided to read the book anyway, even though I was sure it would make me feel guilty. But I found myself so compelled by her narrative and her arguments that I didn't have time for navel-gazing. Sandberg writes a lot about her own experience (she did an MBA at Harvard, worked for the Treasury Department, then as an exec in the earlier days of Google, and is currently the COO of Facebook). Her anecdotes are great (she talks in the TED talk about how her initial drafts were dry and full of stats and her husband encouraged her to tell her own story), and she paints a clear picture of someone who tries and sometimes fails at finding a work-family balance, and acknowledges that her situation, with nannies and a fantastic salary, gives her a different perspective than others might have. But she also uses the experiences of others, and lots of hard evidence, to show that men and women must work together to have more egalitarian marriages to enable both the husband and the wife to have more fulfilling careers.
As for me, the thing that's more likely to keep me up at nights than anything else is how I'm going to jump back in. I leaned out before I opted out (which Sandberg says many people do). I had my first child at 25 and my last came when I was 36, and by the time I'm ready to rejoin the job market, I will have a lot of years out. I often have to push back against the idea that what I do isn't "real" work because I don't claim a paycheck, especially in a marriage where my husband's paycheck is more substantial than mine will ever be. She talked quite a bit about how women at the very bottom and very top of the bell curves are most likely to opt out for financial reasons, and since Ed's job is so unpredictable, and we have so many children (which was my decision), it's put me in a place where I've leaned so far out I'm not sure I can lean back. But Sandberg gives me hope that I can, and that I can certainly give my sons and daughters advice for how they can have families and successful careers. While I was reading this book I talked about it ad nauseum with anyone who would listen, and if you haven't read it yet, even if you're a dude (especially if you're a dude, because it applies to you a lot more than you might think it would), then I agree that you tap into the zeitgeist and get your hands on a copy ASAP.