Lean In? Or Seek Balance?

Have you read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In?

(If you don’t know who Sheryl Sandberg is, she’s the COO of Facebook). I read Lean In a few years ago at the urging of my female boss and thought it was an interesting read. If you’re not familiar with it, to over-simplify, Sandberg discusses that males dominate in the professional realm in part because women do not “lean in.”

She discusses how women may be missing from the top of the corporate ladder because they don’t step up, or lean in to their jobs and all that those jobs require. Sandberg makes the point that women are less likely to seek promotions, even when highly qualified. She acknowledges that family plays a large role in the decisions that women consciously and unconsciously make when it comes to leaning in at work.

Sandberg points out that women often don’t lean in, or choose not to because of the responsibilities that moms have in the family structure. There’s a lot more to the book, but that’s enough context I hope.

So why am I bringing up a book that was published a few years ago? Well, sadly Sandberg’s husband passed away in May 2015, and though I don’t follow much of what goes on in the world, it was brought to my attention that Sheryl Sandberg may be singing a different tune when it comes to leaning in.

The Washington Post published How work-life balance became work all the time which highlights the shift that Sandberg has gone through in becoming a single parent. Sandberg no longer has a significant other to share the family responsibilities and support such a demanding job. And now, she is acknowledging that when you are the only parent, it is quite hard to be a highly successful professionally and a highly successful as a parent (success in the latter is much more subjective, however). 

While I agree to some extent about Sandberg’s point that women could lean in more, and that it must be beyond terrible to lose your husband, what strikes me most is that many women would be in a much different place than Sandberg if they became single moms.

In my case, for example, I work part time and am a mom full-time.

Financially, I would struggle to support my family if my husband was no longer in the picture unless we made very significant changes that would likely involve me working full-time and feeling like a mom part-time.

The opposite is true however: if I weren’t in the picture, my husband wouldn’t be able to keep up with his job and take care of the family as well as I do. He would likely continue to work and find someone to care for our children. It’s not to say that one of us is more important, but it becomes more clear to me: 1) How much easier it seems when there are two parents involved and 2) Women seeking balance in a traditional family structure may end up being at a disadvantage financially if they are no longer part of that structure.

So, should we really be seeking balance? Or should we lean in? Are they mutually exclusive?

I say yes we should seek both and that they can exist together. I don’t want to take the stance that we should be preparing for something tragic like death or divorce, but rather, seek balance that helps you feel fulfilled personally, spiritually, professionally, etc.  And if there are professional aspects to your fulfillment, I’d say do what you can to lean in, even if that is in a part-time job, or in creating your Etsy store, or within a more traditional full-time job.

Yes, there may be sacrifices in other areas when you lean in but there are also benefits too. And you can also decide how far you want to lean in. I don’t think it has to be an all-or-nothing concept.

I also want to present the idea that what looks like taking a step out can actually be leaning in. I’ve recently said no to returning to a more stable job and will be cutting back on other projects that bring in consistent income. I’m making these choices for a variety of reasons including that they don’t fit in with my family’s needs, financially they’re not the best opportunities, and also I don’t have a desire to work in a traditional job.

But more importantly, my saying no to these professional opportunities is actually an example of me leaning in. I am leaning in to this blog, to my consulting work, to growing my own business. And also, to my family. So that means leaning out of other opportunities that are safe and consistent but that also take away from my picture of creating balance.

Moms can "Lean In" and have balance but leaning in may look different than you think. Read now or pin for later.
Pin for later!

So what can you do? I encourage you to take the idea of leaning in and define what it means for you in your life, with your own unique circumstances. And also keep thinking about what balance means to you, what aspects of life you need to lean in to and what you need to lean out of.

Those decisions and choices can be hard and scary but hopefully will be worth it. And guess what? You can make different decisions down the road if you realize you’re unbalanced or are leaning in to the wrong areas. What works today may not work next year, in 5 years, or when your kids are out of the house. Mom-balance evolves and changes, make a choice to lean in and find the balance that works for you.



Let us know: what are you going to lean in to moving forward?


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  • Yes to everything about this post! I think success is different for everyone, balance is difference for everyone, career progression is different for everyone. I think we have different priorities at different times in our lives and if we can continue to consciously learn we are still leaning in.