Leaning in (and out again)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I haven't read Lean In, but I've heard enough about it that I involuntarily bristle when I hear the title of the book. I think I get the general message: women need to get better at 'leaning in' at work, taking on more responsibility, advancing into more leadership roles. That yes, you *can* have it all! Work, and not just any work, but SERIOUS work, REAL work, work that makes things happen, aka NOT the job you're currently wasting time at. And a family, too: three balanced meals a day, and clean, happy children, and a spouse who relentlessly pitches in so you can lean to your heart's content.

I have days where I'm like, "shit yes, I want to lean in!" I want to drive a Land Rover, wear suits, and have people running my Twitter for me because I'm too busy and important to do it myself. And I have days where the only leaning I want to do is into my couch, with a coffee in one hand and a book in the other, while my son plays nearby.

I can't make up my mind.

And the fact that I still don't know what I want, as a grown-ass woman, is always gnawing a little bit at the back of my head. And then, when books like Lean In come out (I know Lean In didn't just "come out", it was published 23987540 years ago now, but bear with me), I feel guilty for not having a clear-cut path or a five-year plan or a solid goal that I can articulate clearly. So I project my guilt as pissyness. All this leaning-in business just reinforces the fact that I don't know which way I want to be leaning from one day to the next, and I feel like a failure for not having my mind made up.

I do want it all. I want a career that I enjoy, that I'm good at, and, yes, one that brings home an adequate amount of bacon. Beyond that, of course I want to advance at work - who doesn't? Who would say: "no thank you, I don't want that promotion. I don't want to be the boss. I don't want to be regarded as a success." Nobody.

I want the family side, too. Child(ren): clean, well dressed, polite, smart, adorable. Loving husband who gives me just the right amount of space and support to pursue all my career goals. Pretty, spic-and-span, Pinterest-worthy house. A dog that doesn't air hump guests. Two vacations a year, an hour in the gym a day, time to do crafts and garden and read and pickle beets.

I definitely want it all. I think everyone wants it all.

But what do I need?

Personally, here's what I need: A job that I enjoy, that pays the bills, with a little fun money left over. I need to be able to buy the nice bottle of wine or the expensive cheese or the Banana Republic dress at full price now and then. Not every day - but I need it to not be a problem when I feel like doing it. That's how much money I need to make: enough that I don't have to worry and can treat myself and others. No more, no less. I need to like my coworkers. I need to be busy and I need to feel like I'm accomplishing something at work. I need to care about what I'm doing. 'Passion' is a strong word, but I definitely need to care.

Time with my family. I need evenings and weekends NOT spent working furiously. I need to be able to clock out at 4:30 or 5:00 and spend a couple of hours with my boys. I need my gym time, running time, yoga time. I need to be able to meet my friends for lunch or coffee or drinks without watching the clock or constantly checking in on my phone. I need the occasional Sunday reserved for nothing but coffee, books, baking a pie and snuggling.

It's hard striking that balance. It's hard trying to put in overtime hours and telling Eli no when he just wants me to help him with his Lego creations, and it's hard leaving the office at 5:00 sharp when I know I have at least two or three more hours' of work that could keep me busy. It's hard working on my laptop while Peter and I are watching a movie, never being totally, 100% unplugged. Reality is hard. I don't think it's easy for anybody. I do know that at this point in time I can't see myself taking on one more commitment or extending myself much more than I currently do.

I guess I'm not the type to Lean In. I'll lean a little, but I'll keep my roots very firmly planted. Most of all, I need to be OK with this. I - we all - need to be OK with deciding what's best for us and not worrying about who's becoming a CEO and who's welcoming the fourth or fifth child into her brood. We need to get over this 'grass is always greener' mentality. Your grass is plenty green enough.

Messages like Lean In need to be more about "here's an option that's available to you, if that's your thing" and less about "if you don't do this you're an underachieving slob." Or I just need to be less sensitive. What I do know is that while all this leaning and not leaning is happening, I have a husband and a son who will be here regardless and I don't want to lean away from them.

You Might Also Like


  1. This is a very poignant blog post, Amy. Maybe it's 'cause we're the same age, but I feel like this a lot as well. One always wants to feel that they're moving forward, making a difference, having a plan for the future, advancing, being innovative at work, being the best best best best at everything. I want a bit of a financial break. I'm "okay" in that department, but could always make more. I'm 10 years into my "career", but I feel like I should be a lot further ahead money-wise.

    The rigmarole of it all - Lean In, motivational blogs, etc - can get you down because you think... "Hey I should be able to do that too!" And then the whole cyclical routine of beating yourself up about what you don't have/what's not under control starts again. I hear ya!

    Ultimately, we need to be focusing on the present, because as much as one wants to plan out the next year or five, things always come along and change the route. It's about managing with a bit of planning. I think. Like you said, balance. :) About the unplugged thing - I hear ya. I look at my phone first thing in the morning, last thing at night. Makes me a bit sick, actually. I am thinking about turning it off at night. I feel almost like I'm not living, as dramatic as that sounds!

    I know we're internet pals, but just want to say, from what I observe, you're an awesome gal! :) You got this.

  2. What you wrote is about as close as I can get to my own opinion voiced through someone else. I feel almost identically. I was always so career driven before Avery but I also always needed that balance. Right now I am a stay at home parent, but finding that I need my creature comforts now and then as well as a non-Mum side to my life, so I'm looking for work right now. I'm so nervous about finding a way to be awesome at my job while still finding balance at home with my husband and two year old. I'm also in the middle of transforming my lifestyle to a more active one. And being the kind of person who never wants to give less than all of myself to any one thing, it's going to be a a challenge to find the spot that is both comfortable but not complacent.

  3. I feel completely and utterly the same. Its like reading how I feel, but articulated into words that I can read. I feel like I want everyone in my life to read this so I can say - "see that's exactly how I feel". I am afraid of taking on too much of a job so I have all work with busy time consuming job that takes up ALL my time and allows me NO down time at all or having a job that's almost irrelevant to me because its an organization that doesn't fizz me and therefore I have family time but no career time, nothing that drives me. Its so hard to find the balance of what we need isn't it.

  4. I need to read this book so I have a better understanding, but from what I've read in reviews I'd have to say I'm totally with you on this. Instead of leaning into anything, how about just standing tall and owning who we are and the choices we make? That sounds more encouraging. So often I catch myself thinking, "Okay, I'm young... I should go back to school shouldn't I? I could be making more money... I've settled. I could have more initials after my name. If she can do it, I SHOULD do it. Wait, maybe we should just move out west to make more money." Then I stop, shake my head and remind myself how much I love my current job although I often can't splurge on the expensive wine, how much I love living at home close to family and friends, and despite all of the projects ahead of us with our home, we love doing it. The thought of moving away from here sickens me. The fact that I've caught myself thinking we SHOULD for MORE MONEY sickens me. That's not me talking, that's pressure to fit into "the mold" talking.

    I read a post recently about expectations women often set on themselves when becoming a new Mom. Everything has to be perfect, organized, super healthy, super structured. You need to lose the baby weight right away, be fit and involved with everything, always ready for visitors with a Pinterest worthy nursery and not a trace of puffiness under your eyes. It was such a great post because I always think, "When I'm a Mom I'm going to be this and that..."... But guess what Rachel, you don't have to be anything. Just be happy, just be you.