Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Luck or Leaning In?

It should be no surprise to long time readers here that I've been eagerly anticipating the release of Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” I'm thrilled to have written a piece for the book's launch over at MomsRising.org, and I plan to read the book as soon as possible. There has already been a lot of criticism and backlash, and I'm sure some of it is valid, but as I wrote at Moms Rising, it seems like the book was written for *me. * In Time Magazine, Judith Warner of "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety" wrote of Sandberg, "She speaks their language: our all-too-universal language of self-doubt, of striving to please, of often feeling like an “imposter” when things go well, or feeling like a failure when everything can’t come together just right."

Did anyone else nearly fall off their chair nodding in agreement with all of that? The self-doubt when we hold ourselves back from applying to a job. The striving to please by ending every email with "Please let me know if I can do anything else to help." The feeling like an imposter when you sit in the meeting, but can't actually contribute to it. The feeling like a failure when the project deadline slips past. Yes, this is my language, and I do hope Sandberg speaks it well.

Here's the thing though: I've been working for 13 years now, and there are a few instances I can recall where it wasn't by "leaning in" that I got ahead, but instead it was sheer luck. Two weeks of pounding the pavement after my college graduation had yielded two job offers. Knowing next to nothing about Bain Capital, except that they had agreed to pay me $1,000 more than the other offer I had, I took the job and ended up spending the rest of my resulting career in this niche in finance. A couple of years later I got a lackluster raise - and decided to go to grad school on the company's dime and get my MBA. Those programs generally don't exist anymore. Shortly after I got pregnant with Hannah at only 25, I knew I wasn't ready to stop working. It honestly wasn't such a premeditated choice, that I'd be a working mom, but I just wasn't done yet. And then the opening in the department I'm in now came up just a few weeks after I'd had a miscarriage. If I was still pregnant then, I might have held myself back.

Sure, there was a lot of time spent laying the groundwork for success too. My mother always pushed me for better grades than I could get. I loaded up on Advanced Placement and Honors classes so I could graduate from college early. I've always worked hard at the jobs I had. But I can't discount the luck, the right place/right time, I've also been graced with along the way.

(So I wrote this post on Sunday afternoon. On Sunday evening, Sandberg appeared on 60 Minutes and said women need to stop pinning their success on luck, and admit that they have core skills. Apparently I do have a lot to learn!)

Thanks to Nanette Fondas and Moms Rising for having me in today's blog carnival. It's a true honor.

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