Leaning over Backwards

I’m pretty sure no law actually exists prohibiting me from writing a critical review of a book I haven’t read, but it’s definitely not the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

Still, Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In is getting on my last, hard working, overtired, doing it all nerve.  The book is everywhere, she is everywhere, there is even a Lean In website, leanin.org, populated by serene yet efficient looking women sharing their thoughts on the topic of Sandberg’s book.


Again, keep in mind that I haven’t read the book…not one page…not even the back cover, but from what I glean by way of interviews, articles, “news” stories, and the like, the book is both a commentary and a “how-to,” addressing the fact that there aren’t as many women in positions of leadership as there should be, both in government and business, and the reasons why this is (and, ostensibly, how to remedy some of that).

I have heard Sandberg interviewed at least three times about her book and I caught most of a speech she gave locally.  Yes, you can do it.  You can be a great mother and wife and self-actualized human and, yes, LEADER.

Sure you can.  If you are OK not ever having control over your own schedule, you have a partner who is fully committed to your success and not his/her own, that same partner is totally OK with running the household and all matters domestic, you don’t mind missing out on the day to day of your children’s lives – school plays, reading to the class that one time a year they ask you to, attending Muffins for Mom around mother’s day, making it to swim meets on time – or ever. Or, if you don’t have kids, then you have to be OK never forging the kind of social relationships with people in your community that give meaning to your life beyond your professional identity.  Because nobody likes to make plans, repeatedly, with the chick who bails at the last minute Every Single Time because she’s working.

I call bullshit on Sheryl Sandberg.  I don’t know a single woman who can be all that she wants to be as a mom, a partner, and a mid-level employee and/or homemaker, let alone capital L Leader.  More to the point, I don’t know very many women who want it all.  We’ve all been there – overscheduled, overtaxed, stretched too thin.  It sucks.  Why would anyone make that the intentional choice?  Sandberg writes about having the confidence to make the moves that propel women forward into positions of leadership.  Maybe lack of confidence is holding some women back, and for them I am sorry.  Mostly, though, I think it’s sanity keeping them from asking for more.

The harsh reality is that you have to choose.  Not just women, men, too.   What means more to you?  What do you want most?  What is going to afford you the quality of life you desire?  Is it people, is it time, is it power, is it a massive paycheck, is it the luxury of not having to be where you don’t want to be when you really want to be somewhere else?  Maybe some women really don’t lack the confidence to pursue positions of greater responsibility and power and earning potential in the business world, maybe it’s that other women actually need to find the confidence to admit that they would prefer to be in a position of greater professional responsibility and power and earning potential in the business world RATHER than have relationships and households.  Which is a perfectly OK choice, it’s still, however, a choice.

Sure.  It will be better for everyone when, in two parent working families, both partners assume equal responsibility for every single thing involved in housekeeping and childraising.  Although most women I know will reluctantly admit that they have a very hard time relinquishing control over lots of what happens in their houses.   Let’s say, even if it was all equally divided, a couple figured out how to split the load fairly,  the truth is that there still wouldn’t be enough time and energy in a given day for one of the people in that partnership to lean in all the way…to anything.  Everybody in that equation is getting shortchanged.  Nobody is getting it all, unless they only want all of one thing.

We are too used to getting our way.  We want what we want immediately, on demand, delivered, perfect, and we want it for cheap.  There’s no instant gratification in happiness, or building a successful family, or becoming a leader.  You can’t have it for cheap and on demand, you have to pay somewhere.

I guess I’m lucky, and I realize that some of this is easy for me to say because I didn’t blink when I had to make a choice.  I climbed right back down the ladder the second it became clear that the distance between what patiently waited for me at the bottom of the ladder and what was beckoning, and in reach, at the top, would be too great.   The way I saw it was that if I kept climbing up, pretty soon what was waiting for me at the bottom would be too far away for me to see it anymore.


  1. Pamela says:


  2. Bonnie says:

    Once again, Ms. Dunning, hitting nail on head. I agree that there’s something completely narcissistic about thinking you can have it all. It’s a ridiculous proposition and one that I’m mortified to think that I once aspired to. Ultimately having enough of a job and enough of a family was the key to a balanced life.

  3. kate says:

    I am with you 100%. I don’t want that kind of high-powered life. I can barely manage a part-time job as a reading teacher with a whopping 25 hour work week. I like to be at home when my kids come home from school. I like to be able to go to a yoga class or on a bike ride whenever I freakin’ feel like it. I take issue with the way she has been packaged and marketed as the ultimate woman.
    kate recently posted..more from Drew Magary

  4. Jamie Coffey says:

    Hello Kristin,

    I just have a question about your site – If you could please email me back when you get a chance I’d greatly appreciate it.


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