A year after reading and writing about Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, I reread the book and realized how much it had already influenced my career — and my happiness. Here are four job strategies that Lean In gave me the courage to try:
1. If Sheryl Sandberg can work 9-5:30, I can, too.
When I first read Lean In I was on maternity leave, getting ready to go back to work as the mother of two. Before I left I’d been getting some direct and indirect pressure to stay later at the office, not because I wasn’t doing a good job (I had a very measurable job and was measurably kicking ass at it every week), but because it would “look good.” Earlier in my career I would have been willing to play that game more, but the thought of having even less time with my kids on the chance that someone might notice and think highly of me made me want to throw up.
Then I read about how Sandberg, THE CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER AT FACEBOOK, had made the switch to working 9-5:30. “I started forcing myself to leave the office at five thirty. Every competitive, type-A fiber of my being was screaming at me to stay, but unless I had a critical meeting, I walked out that door. And once I did it, I learned that I could.”
So like Sandberg, when I returned to work I gritted my teeth every day and walked out that door (unless, like Sandberg, I had a special event or meeting. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t do work after the kids go to bed). Now the fact that I do the child care pick up everyday helps with this mental battle, and sometimes I remind myself that I am legally obligated to leave and pick up my kids on time or my CHILD CARE WILL CALL PROTECTIVE SERVICES. (They won’t pick up the phone after 10 minutes obviously, but seriously, if you don’t pick up your kids eventually they have to do something).
But I still grit my teeth. And I still struggle. Jen and I exchanged a series of texts on the subject that left me in tears a couple of months ago.
But as Sandberg writes, “Every job will demand some sacrifice. The key is avoiding unnecessary sacrifice.” If she didn’t make a change, Sandberg writes, “I would resent not seeing my family and run the risk of becoming the employee who quit with unused vacation time.”
2. It’s OK to turn down a job because of pregnancy (and admit that is the reason).
Sandberg shares how she once turned down a job offer because she didn’t think she could take on a new job while pregnant. (Sandberg is stricken by particularly awful pregnancies). She gave me the courage to bring the same honesty to the conversation when I found myself in a similar situation.
I wrote in my 5 things I learned on my job search post about how I eventually put my search on hold when I entered the second trimester. But all of that networking I did continued to work for me, and a position I’d expressed a lot of interest in opened up at a company I was dying to work for. I’d already had an informational interview with the position’s supervisor, where we’d discussed my interest in and fit for the job. But when the job was finally posted, reading the description made my stomach turn, and I couldn’t imagine taking on a big new job like that 20 weeks pregnant. Every competitive instinct in me told me that I still needed to go for it, that I’d figure out a way for it to work, while everything else in me said this was not the right job for me right now. I knew interviewing for the job while clearly conflicted would have burned the connection forever, as would not pursuing it. I struggled with what to say when I emailed my contact and still don’t feel great with how I worded it, but I was honest about my concerns and know I did the right thing. And now with the full benefit of hindsight, I’m extremely glad I didn’t pursue it. It wasn’t the right job or, as it turned out, the right company (it was sold in the months afterward.)
3. It’s OK to acknowledge you have family obligations during the job negotiation stage.
While acknowledging the potential legal ramifications, Sandberg advocates that as the interviewer or interviewee, it is possible to have a frank discussion about your family needs and plans during the job negotiation phase.
When I finally found the job I really wanted, I was nervous about whether it was compatible with having two young children (and a working husband). Like my friend Amanda, I had surprised myself by seeking out a job that ultimately had required more hours during this time of intense family demands.
So I screwed up my courage and had a frank discussion with my potential boss about the commitments of the job. Having a full understanding of all of the extra evenings and weekend obligations made me feel like I knew what I was signing up for, and asking open questions gave me confidence that they also knew what they were getting with an employee with two young kids.
Sandberg shares advice she received from a mentor: “He said that McKinsey would never stop making demands on our time, so it was up to us to decide that we were willing to do. … Counter-intuitively, long-term success at work often depends on not trying to meet every demand placed on us.”
4. If all else fails, put your kids to bed with their clothes on.
OK, I’ve never actually put my kids to bed wearing their clothes for the next day, but this anecdote continues to make me laugh. In the book Sandberg shares a story of a Palo Alto exec with two children admitting during a panel that she put her children to sleep in their school clothes to save fifteen precious minutes every morning.
Although my teeth also do a lot of gritting getting the girls ready in the morning by myself, I haven’t had to resort to such tactics, but the thought of having that trick in my back pocket makes me laugh. I’m not above in very limited set of circumstances (requiring an ungodly early wake-up) putting the strategy into practice for myself, however (Shhhh.).
Are you new to our discussions about Lean In? Check out these posts:
- 10 things from Lean In we can’t stop thinking about
- Taking Sheryl Sandberg’s free advice (guest post)