Leaning into the hurdles

I haven’t yet picked up my copy, but I have to say, the controversy over Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” has me confounded.

I’ve read enough reviews though that I get that her message more directly applies to an elite set of women in professional positions with supportive spouses and the drive and desire to have a seat on the board.

And I get that it can be off-putting when a privileged woman tells all other women to own the responsibility of making it happen, when so many other women can point to the many other hurdles they have in their way that surely Sheryl has no concept of.

As a marketing director at Xbox, I’ve had a great career at a huge company, and am privileged to mentor many women who seem to seek me out in their effort to crack the code of achieving that elusive work-life balance as a mom and executive.

Their common question?

How do you manage to be successful at this male-dominated, internally competitive company, and do it authentically as a woman, while maintaining a balanced personal life?

And I usually answer: I’m glad it looks so good on the outside!

There are ups and downs, no doubt about it, but the toughest times in my career have been when I let the hurdles become more powerful than me.

A single comment from a former manager placed a 10 feet high hurdle made of concrete and rebar right in my superstar path, not too long ago.  He actually gave me a directive to avoid making an impact for worry that it would disrupt the team I was joining.  I actually listened, and consequently lost my momentum, my fire, and eventually a good dose of confidence.

Was this his fault though?  Absolutely not!  He was managing the team the best he could and was calling plays as he saw fit.  The fact that I did not push back, counter with a more insightful plan of action, or frankly ignore the directive and make an impact as I know I can, was MY fault.  Even if it had gotten me fired or moved to another team, I would have retained my ownership of my own career, and not surrendered it to what I thought he wanted out of me.

To live by my own words of advice I give to all of my mentees –  Show up as you.  Never settle for a situation that requires you to change who you are.  The authentic you is the best version, and what your company pays you to be.  If you aren’t what they need, and if they aren’t what you need, find something else.  You are in control.

And this is the conversation I would have with any other woman who is trying to get ahead – in corporate America, on the PTA, as a single mom with two jobs, as a student running for office, as a secretary who aspires to manage an office, whatever and whoever.

Look at the “hurdle” in front of you and face it as you would a Queen to her army.  Stay in charge, do what you need to do, ask for what you need, and remember that the only person in charge of your life is you.  And girl, you are phenomenal.  Stay lit up on the inside, stay authentic, believe in yourself, and no matter who you are or what you do – go get your dream.  If you don’t, who will?

So, to the controversy that swirls among women about Sheryl’s message to “lean in,” I say this:

Stop debating it, and start doing it.

You may not have a shot at the boardroom, you may not even care to land there, but if you have a dream and see hurdles in the way, hold your power and keep driving hard. Our courses will look different for each of us, but own yours no matter what. And hear what Sheryl’s saying… “Speak up. Believe in yourself. Take risks.”



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