Can you "Lean In" AND have Balance?

07/05/2016 05:35 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2016
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Have you read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg?

In case you don’t know, Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook. A few years ago I read Lean In at the urging of my female boss and I remember thinking it was an interesting read. To over-simplify, Sandberg discusses how males dominate in the professional world in part because women do not "lean in".

She discusses how women may be missing from the top of the corporate ladder because they don’t lean in to their jobs and all that those jobs require. Sandberg highlights that women are less likely than men to seek promotions, even when highly qualified. When it comes to leaning in at work she acknowledges that family plays a large role in the decisions that women consciously and unconsciously make. She points out that women often don’t lean in, or choose not to because of the role and responsibilities that moms have in the family structure. While there’s a lot more to the book, hopefully that’s enough context.

Sandberg, I’m sure, has made a point to lean in to her career, and sadly Sandberg’s husband passed away in May 2015. Though I didn’t follow the story much, it does seem that Sheryl Sandberg may be singing a different tune when it comes to leaning in. The Washington Post published How work-life balance became work all the time which highlights the shifts that Sandberg experienced in becoming a single parent.

Sandberg no longer has a significant other to share the family responsibilities and support her in such a demanding job. And now, she acknowledges that when you are the only parent, it is quite hard to be a highly successful professionally and a highly successful as a parent. And of course success in the latter is much more subjective.

I do agree to some extent about the point that women could lean in more at work. I also can’t imagine what it’s like to lose your husband. However, what strikes me most is that many women would be in a much different place than Sandberg if they became single moms. Her high profile job gives her a certain level of income that well-exceeds that of many moms (or dads!) I know.

In my case, for example, I work part-time and am a mom full-time. If my husband was no longer in the picture, financially, I would struggle to support my family, unless very significant changes were made. Those changes would likely involve me working full-time and feeling like a mom part-time. The opposite is also true: if I weren’t in the picture, my husband wouldn’t be able to keep up with his job in the same way he does now and take care of the family as well as I do.

He would likely continue to work and find someone to help care for our children. This is not to say that one of us is more important, but in thinking about Sandberg and many others, it becomes more clear to me: 1) How much easier it seems when there are two parents involved and 2) Women in a traditional family structure may end up being at a disadvantage financially if they are no longer part of that structure.

Should we seek balance? Or should we lean in? Can we have both?

I think they can exist together and that we should seek both. Work to create balance in your life that helps you feel fulfilled personally, spiritually, professionally, etc. If there are professional aspects to your fulfillment, then I say to take Sandberg’s advice and do what you can to lean in, even if that is in a part-time role, or in creating an online business, or within a more traditional full-time job.

Yes, when you lean in there may be sacrifices you have to make, but there are also benefits too. Not only that, but you can also decide how far you want to lean in. I don’t think it has to be an all-or-nothing concept.

I also want to present the idea that what looks like taking a step out can actually be leaning in. I was offered an opportunity to return to a previous employer; this would be a stable almost full-time job. I said no. I’ve also declined other projects that bring in consistent income. I’m making these choices for a variety of reasons including that they don’t fit in with my family’s needs, I don’t have a desire to work in a traditional job, and financially I feel like I can do more with my time.

But more importantly, my saying no to these professional opportunities is actually me leaning in. I am leaning in to my freelance writing, to my blog to my consulting work, and to growing my own business. And also, I am leaning in to my family. In order to do that, it means leaning out of other opportunities that are safe and consistent. The safe, consistent and full-time doesn’t allow me balance.

So what can you do? Take the idea of leaning in and decide what it means for you in your life, with your own unique circumstances. And think about what balance means to you. What aspects of life you need to lean in to and what might you need to lean out of?

The good news is that we can always revaluate. You can make different decisions down the road if you realize you’re unbalanced or are leaning in to the wrong areas. What works for you today may not work next year, in five years, or when your kids are out of the house at school. Mom-balance evolves and changes, so make a choice to lean in and find the balance that works for you.

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What are you going to lean in to moving forward?

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