THE BLOG

Lean In -- Is that the Magic? The Choices and Challenges in Attaining Happiness and Success

04/01/2013 02:47 pm 14:47:40 | Updated Jun 01, 2013
AP

Having achieved the professional success that Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, is advocating women "lean in" to do -- I have been CEO of Aveda Corp., President of Reebok Apparel and Retail Group, Vice President of Nike and am currently an international author and successful entrepreneur -- the term has special meaning for me.

Telling women that they should be brave, assert their place at work, not worry about being disliked and make their husband/partner share 50% of the housework and childcare is nice, but is it realistic? Each decision and goal entails choices and consequences, and there are still definite challenges that women face to business success that cannot be changed by a willingness to try harder.

Women are now expected to have a career while also fulfilling the traditional roles of daughter, wife, mother, homemaker and community volunteer. The expectation is that they are socially aware, self-actualized, physically fit, young-looking, glamorous and with the "right" partner. These conflicting and demanding expectations have resulted in a measurable global decrease in women's happiness over the past 40 years, particularly in comparison with men.

The United States General Social Survey have conducted an annual happiness survey since 1972 among a representative sample of men and women (about 50,000 people so far) of all ages, education levels, income levels and marital status, and found women's unhappiness is growing. The British Household Panel Survey, Eurobarometer Analysis (15 countries) and the International Social Survey Program (35 developed nations) all point toward this same concerning fact. Women are feeling more and more unhappy in the past few decades and it is a global phenomenon

Leaning in is good advice for business success, but it also has to be taken in context with the many decisions one has to make in life. "Having it all" is a fallacy; we cannot have it all at the same time. The multiple roles and expectations for a woman in the 21st century are impossible for any single person to achieve and maintain. We have to be careful that we are not blaming the victim for not fighting back stronger while embracing the tools and wisdom that Sheryl Sandberg passionately offers.

Midway in my ascent to upper management, a male colleague called me "the lady without a life." It was supposed to be a compliment of sorts -- I was at work from 7:30 a.m. until close most days and brought work home on nights and weekends. It was an unconscious tradeoff -- until my husband died suddenly of a heart attack while he was mountain biking one Sunday morning. My world stopped. Work didn't seem as important any more. We make choices and we have to understand what we are trading in each one based on our reasons for living.

Yes, the lack of an equitable number of women in leadership positions in businesses and politics is hindering the overall potential and well-being of the world. We cannot afford to lose the bulk of the capability of 50% of the population in today's fast-changing and tumultuous world.

The solution is not to tell women to lean in; it is to ask everyone to lean in -- to help each other, especially women and minorities who are less represented in the ruling class. The entire system has to change. The past economic and social norms were geared for a male-centric society with a single breadwinner, with the majority of housework and childcare shouldered by the women.

Now the world is much more integrated. All aspects of the positives and negatives of our development, production, consumption and disposal of our waste products are connected to everyone else's with no escape. Global consumption patterns and social and political actions have ramifications that are also local and vice versa. The impact and ripple effect of each person's actions and behavior are now of concern for all.

The only way we can survive and thrive in this environment is to cooperate and utilize everyone's talents, wisdom and insights. We have to reassess the spoken and unspoken rules and mores of the world's economic and social conventions. Leaning in can work if we all collaborate. It is not adequate to tell women to lean in -- we need to shift the mindset of all people to achieve success, harmony and sustainability.

Each person, woman and man can make the decisions that will bring them happiness and success as they personally define it. When you are living in alignment with your life purpose, it will guide your path and provide the practical steps and principles to promote your goals. When each person is living up to his or her highest potential, then we will truly have a thriving, sustainable and happy world. My new book, The Happiness Choice -- The 5 decisions that will take you from where you are to where you want to be is my offering to help others determine their life purpose and make the choices that will keep them on track to happiness and success. Yes, it is possible to have happiness and success, once you know you can choose.

Marilyn Tam wrote her new book, The Happiness Choice -- The Five Decisions that Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be so that others may benefit from what she learned, often through painful experience on how to be happy, healthy and have a dynamically balanced life. Many experts in the five key aspects of life -- body, relationships, money, spirit, and community -- contributed to the book. This includes Joan Borysenko, Ph.D.; Jack Canfield; Arielle Ford; MJ Ryan; Harville Hendrix, Ph.D.; Michael Galizter, MD and many more leaders in their fields. All share personal stories, insights and expertise on the key factors that influence our lives. Each talk about their personal life purpose and their secrets to happiness. You can get more free insights and find out about Marilyn on her website http://www.marilyntam.com/books.html and connect with her on facebook

Marilyn Tam is an international selling author, speaker, entrepreneur, humanitarian and former CEO of Aveda, President of Reebok Apparel Products & Retail Group and VP of Nike and the Founder and Executive Director of Us Foundation.