What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Guest Post by: Alexandra Engler, Future Journalist

When I opened Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In for the first time, I knew I was going to enjoy it. The very first chapter is titled: “The Leadership Ambition Gap: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” It’s a question I have ironically been asked many times throughout my life.

See, this quote sits on my father’s desk in his office in Lincoln, Neb. It’s engraved on a little bronze plaque that stares at him from the middle of the desk. And every time I visited him at his office, the little plaque asked me this question, too.

And from an early age, I took it to heart. What would I do if I had no fear? What dreams could I accomplish? If I did not limit myself, what could I achieve?

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So at the tender age of 10, I set my sights on New York City all the way from the dense cornfields of Nebraska. What I would do there often changed when I was young (lawyer, Broadway actress, ambassador to the United Nations, you name it). But after joining my high school newspaper, I knew it had to be journalism. Since then it has never changed.

It’s understandable to think that I would be fearful of my aspirations—especially in this job climate for aspiring journalists. But my father’s favorite quote always reminded me that I chose this career path with no fear—now it’s time to do it, even if I am fearful.

After reading Sandberg’s book, however, this quote that nearly defined my life took a new shape—which was entirely due to my gender.

Women have the pressure to not only be fearless for our own dreams, but for others. In a commencement address to Barnard College, which she quotes in the book, she states: “And I hope that you—yes, you—have the ambition to lean in to your career and run the world. Because the world needs you to change it. Women all around the world are counting on you.”

Fortunately for me, women in my generation are showing signs of being less afraid to lean in. Sandberg cites a 2012 Pew study that showed young women around my age were more likely than young men of the same age to value “success in a high-paying career or profession” by seven percentage points.

We young women are becoming less afraid of our own power and ambition. We are becoming less afraid to answer the question “what would you do if you were not afraid?” with an honest answer.

And for that lesson, I cannot credit my father’s quote. I must credit my mother’s example.

My mother joined the workforce again after I was a few years old. She is a talented and brilliant woman, and she wanted the challenges of the working world again. She worked at my grade school for a few years. She enjoyed it, but it clearly wasn’t what she really wanted to do.

So she took a risk and started applying for jobs in the business sector. After a few interviews at a few places, she landed a job at a pharmaceutical testing company. She’s been there ever since—rising through the ranks to her current job as a project manager.

Her journey was one of the most fearless things I have seen. She doesn’t have a degree in business, nor had she worked at a company that did anything like her current one. But she had confidence that she could excel—and she did.

She was fearless. And even if she didn’t realize that it was for my benefit, it gave me the confidence to be fearless as well.

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Ready to Make My Mark

Guest Post by: Kristen Hesano, Future Orthopedic Sales Rep

Growing up, my mother worked as a hair stylist while my father worked as a small business owner and was able to have flexibility in the hours that he worked. I saw my dad in the mornings—he made me lunches, put bows in my hair, and helped see me off to Kindergarten. While in school, they taught us about the women’s suffrage movement, the feminist movement, and equality in the workplace. On the outside, it appeared that women finally had it all. It appeared that there was nothing that I, as a woman, needed to worry about when I applied for jobs in the workforce after finishing my degree.

Hesano Lean in ImageThe unfortunate reality, however, is that women continue to struggle for equality in every aspect of society.  As a seasoned veteran in these experiences, Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, offers context for why we are still struggling for gender parity, as well as practical advice for both men and women in order to coexist more productively and happily as a society.

Though some critics have stated that Sandberg places the blame on women. That is simply untrue. Her book offers a realistic perspective that encourages both men and women to champion women and overcome the internalized messages that often cause women to silence themselves, sit in the corner of the room in an important meeting, and make subtle decisions that place them on a path to leave the workforce before that decision need to be made. She argues that most of the behavior that perpetuates inequality between men and women is often subconscious and that in order to achieve true equality between men and women, institutions and individuals must notice this behavior and correct it by “encouraging, promoting, and championing more women.”

Sandberg even goes so far as encouraging males to help more in the home (and encourages women to let them do this, even if it isn’t their way). She observes that many women turn down important career opportunities because they fear their home dynamic will be negatively impacted, or that they will not be able to juggle family and work life. The question is, who really can? I believe the true answer to that question is: not a single person. That’s why if a woman feels so inclined to have a family, its important to find a “real partner,” an equal partner—one who is supportive not just by encouraging you in your career, but one who is changing diapers at 3am, and making breakfast for the kids.

Beginning the conversation about true gender equality is the first step toward achieving the parity we are seeking. Sandberg observes that changing the standard norms and cues women receive in addition to the patriarchal ideals that are institutionalized in our social systems will be a tedious process. She hopes that her book will encourage more women to stay in the workforce, challenge them to speak louder and seize those coveted leadership positions. With more women in leadership, more changes can be made within institutions to remedy the barriers which fundamentally hold women back from being successful in their given career paths.

These barriers don’t just hold women back either. Sandberg, and I too, believe that with more women in leadership positions and in the workforce, an equal voice of the population will be better heard, and women can contribute to the various areas in which men are lacking. With true gender equality, our workplaces, politics, and homes will be a more enjoyable and productive place to be.

Moving forward, both men and women should be held responsible for actively championing women to be leaders in the workplace and for men to be leaders in the home. I’m ready to make my mark so that when my children go to school and learn about the women’s movement for equality, they won’t be surprised as I was to learn that women still have a long way to go until they have it all; rather, I hope they worries focus on which career path is the right one for them, not because they are male or female, but because they want to be true to their work and love what they do, whether that is working in politics, advertising, or raising their own children. I hope that we can work together in our generation in order to ensure that our children don’t have to worry about these issues, nor will our children’s children.

I’m ready to make my mark. Are you?

Life and Work versus Life or Work

Guest Post by: Elizabeth Krunnfusz, Child of the Universe

After giving birth Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, went to great lengths to mask the upheaval of routine that comes with a life-altering event. Attempting to “hide” her new schedule from co-workers, Sandberg credits Camille, her executive assistant, for setting meetings up at other offices as so to “make it less transparent when I was actually arriving or departing.” All of this was done in an effort to mask a rearrangement of priorities, to protect the soft underbelly of professional pride from the possibility of colleagues’ disappointed expectations.

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source: chickflicksmusicals.blogspot.com/

It is unfair that natural events of life, those that make up so much of the human experience, are seen as a weakness when they interfere with work. They are called things like “maternity leave” instead of just being called by their proper name…life. Work and life should not be mutually exclusive events. They thrive off each other and simultaneously build culture so, really, it in our best interest that they dance with each other. It is in our best interest that we, as a society, allow them to be partners, feeding off of each other. It is in our best interest to not allow work and life to remain as feuding lovers, standing at opposite ends of a room, each demanding the other to give them more attention.

Even though as a society at large we still have quite the journey to go in balancing both work and life, we can give a generous nod to stories Sandberg shares and take to heart in the lessons within the pages of Lean In.

Sandberg openly admits to craving order saying, “I am not someone who embraces uncertainty” yet, she goes on to explain that in her professional career, instead of clinging, she took the chance to shed her comfort cloak and reaped the rewards of embracing the unknown. Personally, I too am not known as one to wholeheartedly embrace uncertainty and have frequently wondered how the implications of such a disposition might translate into my professional career. Though, as time moves on and I continue becoming more equipped to embrace the inevitability of life’s uncertainty – Sandburg’s sentiments and words are ones that will be added to my arsenal.

I see Sandberg’s words not as an ultimatum but as a graceful nudge. The mantra “lean in” is not a condemnation or ungrateful reflection on the hardworking hours of working women all over the world but a gentle nudge for every woman, no matter her station or success, to be her own greatest advocate, to believe in herself and participate all that much more. I see “lean in” also as a plea for engagement. A hope that each person will understand the worth of his or her story and share. A hope that everyone will bring their experiences and welcome each other as they all, as Sandburg says, “sit at the table.”