'Lean In?' Now that was some bad advice

  • Article by: ROSA BROOKS , Foreign Policy
  • Updated: February 24, 2014 - 11:53 AM

Ladies, I tried it. I realized that the better fight is for some well-earned time to recline.

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Photo: Tim Ludwig • Wichita Eagle,

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I had an epiphany the other day. I was in the middle of marking up a memo on U.S. drone policy while simultaneously ordering a custom-decorated cake for my daughter’s sixth-grade musical cast party and planning my remarks for a roundtable on women in national security.

Suddenly, it hit me: I hate Sheryl Sandberg.

It’s not because she’s so rich, or because she’s the COO of Facebook, or because she has gleaming, meticulously coifed hair. True, Facebook is the Internet equivalent of Vishnu, Destroyer of Worlds, and my own hair will never approach the glossy perfection of Sheryl Sandberg’s. I have nothing against rich people, who sometimes fund my projects or buy me lunch at fancy restaurants. Rich people, I love you!

It’s also nothing personal. I’m sure Sheryl Sandberg is a delightful person, and I’d love her, too, if I knew her and she bought me lunch at a fancy restaurant. In fact, she and I probably have some friends in common; we were college classmates, though I don’t remember if we ever met.

“Did we know Sheryl Sandberg?” I asked my friend Suzanne, who was also in my college class.

She gave me a funny look. “Well, I knew her. Don’t you know if you knew her?”

“I can’t remember.”

“If you knew her, you would remember,” said Suzanne. “She was one of those people you would definitely remember. I used to go to an aerobics class she taught.”

That explained it. Some college students, like my friend Suzanne, take aerobics classes. Some college students, like Sheryl Sandberg, teach aerobics classes. Other college students, like myself, lie around the dorm reading novels. Sheryl Sandberg was already busy leaning in. I was busy leaning back on my sofa, with a good book and a nice cup of cocoa.

This, of course, is also why I hate her.

Sheryl, have you ever stopped to consider that all this “leaning in” is ruining life for the rest of us?

Long ago, before Sandberg’s book “Lean In” convinced me to change my ways, I had a life. I had friends, family, children. I had hobbies. I had a job, too, of course, but I also took occasional vacations, knocked off work at a sensible hour and got eight hours of sleep each night.

Then I read “Lean In” and realized that I was self-sabotaging slacker.

I resolved to do better. I started stepping up at work: “I’ll handle both those complex and urgent projects,” I informed my colleagues, with just the right mix of confidence, assertiveness and nonthreatening feminine charm. “With a little creative, outside-the-box thinking, I can take care of both by tomorrow!” I stopped turning down invitations to speak at conferences in inconveniently far-off places. I accepted every media request. I promised to write articles and reports and books.

I leaned in to the other spheres of my life, too: I became a room parent at the children’s school, hosted the class potluck and the mother-daughter book club, and decided that my children would go to school each day with organic, homemade lunches packed in eco-friendly containers.

Just as Sandberg promised, the rewards of leaning in quickly became evident. My confident, assertive yet nonthreatening feminine charm helped me rapidly expand both my business and social networks.

When I dropped the kids off at school, other mommies gazed upon me with approval. Older colleagues took me aside to tell me I was an up-and-comer and offer me plum assignments. Younger colleagues asked me to mentor them and join their Lean In Circles. Speaking engagements flowed my way, and rich people asked if they could buy me lunch. With my confident yet charmingly self-deprecating smile, I accepted all offers and invitations.

Soon, the rewards of leaning in doubled.

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