I don’t know what it is about Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In that bothers me, or why everyone thinks it’s a big deal. Specifically, why Ms. Kauffman quotes the book in every speech. Is everyone surprised that there’s a woman in technology that can also write?
I don’t disagree with the message. I’m all for trying new things and pushing my comfort zone. (Wait, is it about challenging gender expectations? Maybe I should read this book.) In either case, I almost feel insulted that I need to be told to be bold. I consider myself an engineer, and yes I know that’s a male-dominated field, but honestly, I don’t care. And I’m pretty sure I’ll continue not to care in the future, because I am that kind of person.
I’m unsure whether it’s Castilleja that has molded this spirit in me or if it was some other influence. But I had already begun to lean into discomfort well before this year. I am not afraid to make a fool of myself. I tried water polo in freshman year, having never tread water correctly; I turned in an essay entitled “Why I Hate Holden” to a teacher who loved him; and I did track this year while simultaneously proclaiming that I am not a running person. I even wrote slash fiction for my final English project this year, partly to see if I could get away with it and partly to have fun. Clearly, I take risks that I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle or do well in. I am absolutely surprised when my expectations are different from what actually happens, but I learn the most from my failures.
The other part of “Lean In” that I take to heart is the directive to push boundaries. Our school doesn’t have a programming course? Why not? I’ll push for that to happen. Someone thinks girls shouldn’t be using power tools? Why is that? I’ll change their mind. The Administration thinks a certain teacher is the perfect choice for a week-long adventure to another country? They probably don’t get enough of our feedback. I’ll tell them. Some of my pushing back has been rude, I will admit, but Castilleja has allowed me to recognize my audacity, apologize, and move forward. Some of my boldness, though, I don’t regret, and I wonder why. Is it because my classmates came to me afterwards thanking me for speaking up? I would rather be supported by my friends than be approved of by some adult that doesn’t know me. I suppose this moral compass will gain me enemies, but these are the enemies I have the strength to stand against, and I know I will never be complicit and complacent if I always speak up.
I don’t think this complexity can be summed up in the two words, “lean in.” After all, this statement lacks a subject and an object (though I applaud it for its verb). Who should lean in? Me? You? Politicians? Women? Men? Toddlers? Lean in to what? Adversity? Conversations? To see down someone’s shirt? (not my words) The cool fan breeze on a hot afternoon? These and so many questions race through my head when our head of school quotes the title of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book. Instead of saying, “Lean in,” I would ask, “How have you pushed yourself and others to change for the better?” That question, I think, would elucidate a much better discussion.