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.