Summer Book Review #27: Lean In

“This doesn’t get me,” remarked Carolyn Bates, a recent Notre Dame grad, from the dressing room of a mid-western retailer.   (Fat Talk Carries a Cost, Hoffman, NYT, 5/28/2013, D4).  This exchange from ‘Fat Talk Carries a Cost‘ highlighted body-centered self-deprecating women speak.  Have you ever heard something like, “I can’t believe I ate that brownie.  I am so fat!” Or responded, “You must be joking, you are not fat.  Just look at my thighs!”   (Fat Talk, NYT, 5/28/2013, D4)    The article identified cultural norms that include all manner of negative retorts meant to maintain relationships.  This doesn’t get me was presented as positive, a pivot.

The quote struck me as I finished Sheryl Sandberg‘s Lean In.   In spite of my genuine interest in reading this book it left me pretty unmoved.  Or is deflated a better description?  I wanted more from this incredibly hyped book.  This book just doesn’t get me….

The book marks the beginning of Novofemina’s third Summer Book Review sojourn.  For those new to Novofemina I read/review a transition book every week between Memorial Day and Labor Day for the Summer Book Review.   My hope is that I’ll find some interesting perspectives to accelerate my own transition and help readers find a decent beach read or two.

Here’s a funny anecdote.  Novofemina’s visitor stats always go up at the end of college semesters.   Why?   The traffic for the book review pages skyrockets.  I can only imagine that end of semester papers require research…. Who knew?  I wonder what the citation looks like….

Lean In is tough to classify.  I am not sure I liked the book.  It was a mixed bag, at times interesting, at others grating.   It is a quick read.   At a high level the author shares her personal evolution on becoming a feminist and her commitment to women’s advancement.  Her theory seems to go something like, ‘if we all just try harder, lean in, we’ll get women in enough positions of power to change everything, including the barriers that impede our growth.’  I found this oddly circuitous.

Sandberg’s material targeted at the individual is more engaging.   With my transition lens I see Lean In calling women to grow into a fuller version of themselves.  The book identifies two categories of hurdles for women along this pathway:  (a) an honest engagement of ourselves that is not muted by self-limiting talk or action; and (b) a bucking of all manner of social norms both at home and in the workplace.

So is Lean In about transition?   Most definitely.  Sandberg focuses on pathways that lead to corporate offices…but her techniques aren’t exclusive to that outcome alone.  Here are some things I learned in reading the book:

a) An image for the 21st century career…the jungle gym:   Lean In introduces an image of career progression away from dusty old ladders to rambling climbing structures.   These require creativity.  Interpretation.  Agility.   “The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours, and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment,” said Sandberg.  (Lean, pg 53)   For Sandberg the secret sauce seems to be embracing risk along with discontinuous career choices.

Play Structure by Christian Carollo

Play Structure by Christian Carollo

b) Insight into targeting environments vs. a job:   My guess is that if you follow Sandberg’s personal model you’d be better served looking for environmental factors in a job search instead of looking for a specific job. Three characteristics seem to be present in all of Sandberg’s roles: a growth environment; learning opportunities; and the need for problem solving.   How many of these are present where you invest your time?

c) Ignore Self-limiting Assumptions:  Sandberg shares a story about returning to Google following her 1st maternity leave.  Upon her return she had to pivot away from her personal work style of 12+ hour days.  Her 9-5 post-maternity schedule was augmented with a few extra hours tacked on after dinner, baths, etc.  But face time in the office was greatly reduced.   Despite her real fear about this change she’s learned that her hesitations were rooted in self-limiting assumptions.  (Lean, pg 129)  She’s now morphed into an uber-efficient contributor, dare I say stronger now than pre-schedule change?   What assumptions might be self-limiting in your world?

d) Embrace Networking:   Via Lean In Sandberg introduces readers to a seemingly endless stream of personal relationships.   From these vignettes I get a sense that she’s committed to networking.    How actively are you acting on this opportunity to learn?

I greatly appreciate the conversation that this book has started.   I only wish the media would capture the broader messages that Sandberg offers in the book.  Remember it’s about reaching for how we envision ourselves in the environment most important to our own dream….not just the corner office.

I’m quite sure after reading Lean In that the book just doesn’t get me.   After reading it I think it’s less about posture and more about a commitment….a commitment to pursuing a path uniquely suited for you and your dreams.  Are you proceeding forward?  On what path?

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4 responses to “Summer Book Review #27: Lean In

  1. At first I formed an opinion about this book based on media coverage, then I decided I couldn’t really have an opinion unless I read it. Maybe it’s all in the expectations (mine were very low), but when I finally read the book, I was pleasantly surprised. I felt she captured perfectly why so many women opt out (like me). I think she pointed out continuing bias well which is really important. I think her particular journey and outcome are not realistic for most and she didn’t cover that well at all. Anyway, yes, she gets an “A” for getting this conversation out there.

  2. Katie, Thanks for sharing your perspective! I think expectations play a huge role…mine were over the moon.

  3. All in all, I was glad I read the book and I give her kudos for putting herself out there. It is not the best book I have read about the pressures of a working and having kids, and it glossed over governmental and corporate policy that impact working parents. It did make me think about conversations, modeling and mentoring I need to do with the young people who work for me now. I would recommend it as a way of keeping the conversation going. But I found it wanting of true sympathy and solutions for this very real conundrum women face.

    Your review was actually very helpful by taking her stories and turning them into questions to ask yourself as you look at work and life. Thanks. And Thanks for making me finish the darn thing!

  4. Pingback: Summer Book Review Denouement | NovoFemina

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