Book Review: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

After all of the hype had died down, I thought it was about time for me surrender and review Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”. You know, the one that was getting so much controversy because, gasp, a woman was writing about her tumultuous decision between starting a family and taking on more leadership roles in her career.

I’ll admit, before reading the book I made some quick judgments, founded only on the thoughts of others; news hosts, friends, my favorite blogs. I was confused about the perceived message: was this woman writing about choosing between work and life? Was she advocating for all women to “have it all” and “make it work” (a la the great Tim Gunn)? To be fair, I needed to read it for myself. So I went to my neighborhood bookstore to purchase it and dove right in. Two days later, I had finished it.

Sandberg’s entire book is one-part personal stories mixed with one-part relevant research. I happen to enjoy this style of writing as the facts support her real-life experiences which stress the point without boring it. Being someone who is all about women empowerment and its ability to positively affect all aspects of life, I completely agree with her main theme:

“Conditions for all women will improve when there are more women in leadership roles giving strong and powerful voice to their needs and concerns.”

Yes, Sandberg focuses a lot on the career woman who also wants to be a mother, lover, and friend, but she makes sure to note that not all women want a career or family or both. I appreciate this. As someone who has never really dreamed of having children, but who respects people who do, I think it’s important to note that living our best lives as women looks different for each and every one of us. So ladies, before you go off and discount this book because you think it might be too career focused, give it a try. You’ll be surprised by it’s focus on all things “life-related”.

Let’s face it: any time someone writes a book that is based solely on one gender, race, socio-economic status, etc., it is sure to be judged hard-core for being biased. But I think that Sandberg does a fair job of not excluding men, but rather focusing on inclusion of women on all fronts. I also found her voice to not be solely accusatory of men or society in general, as she looks inward and suggests that sometimes women hold themselves back. AMEN! I see this every day with my clients. Sure, there are some societal barriers that hold us back (unequal pay, being natural primary care-givers of children (I.e. breast-feeders)), but I see too often that women don’t “lean in” or take advantage of career opportunities or embrace their confidence because they innately think that they don’t deserve it. And it pisses me off.

Just as I preach, Sandberg suggests that FEAR is a huge barrier for women in all aspects of life. She says:

“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.”

Ugh. I felt that. Fear has such a great way of producing the guilt syndrome. You know exactly what I’m talking about: if you take on more responsibilities at work, you might not be able to spend as much time with your family. Guilt. If you stay home with your kids for a few years to nurture their growth, you may never get a decent job again. Guilt. Fear.

Ladies, we have got to let go of the fear. We can’t have it all. Period. We’ll kill ourselves trying. We can only choose our priorities and go for the BEST in those areas. Fear is FALSE. You’ve got to do what is best for you, your life, and your loved ones. And your version is going to look different from mine. And from your mom. And from your best friend.

The key in squashing fear is infusing confidence in to all areas of your life. If you choose to stay home with your kids, do it whole-heartedly. Be the best damn stay-at-home parent you can be. If you choose to stay at work and have the kids go to daycare, put passion in to your career and your kids will see that passion and it will in turn, be instill in them. There is no universal right choice. You just need to make a choice and live it out.

Sandberg makes a point to not leave out gender reversal roles in her book, i.e. stay-at-home dads. And I love how she does it. She talks about how we as women, men, and a society must allow these choices to be accepted. If a man wants to lean in to being a stay-at-home dad, we must not only celebrate it, but make it feasible. She talks about having more paternity leave for men across the nation and changing our ideas about what a “strong male figure” looks like. Again, it will take more than a book to change societal views, but change starts within. If every person who reads her book opens their mind to these views, real change has the opportunity to happen.

I want to note that Sandberg only gives one paragraph to same-sex couples and the effect of leaning in on their roles. Perhaps there is not enough research out there yet for her to have written more about homosexual couples, but I was disappointed in her lack of addressing this sector of our population. It would be interesting to see how gender roles and societal views play in to how these couples deal with leaning in to their jobs and their home life.

My overall thoughts: read this book. And men, you should read it too. If for nothing else, Sandberg paints great pictures with her real-life, intriguing stories of working at Google and Facebook that are not only educational, but entertaining. And ladies, read this book with an open mind. I wish that Sandberg would have called the book: Lean In: Women and the Will to Lead in All Aspects of Life, because, although she focuses a lot on careers, she also talks at length about relationships, families, and life outside of work. I think a lot of people might be turned off by her theme of leadership in the workplace, but honestly, her book is deals with more than that. Give it chance; you’ll learn something about your self. My hope is that you feel empowered to put some confidence back into ALL aspects of your life. You deserve it. Now lean in to it!

Have you read the book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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