Lean In

Have you ever been inspired by a book or an idea, but made excuses for why you shouldn’t take action? If so, you are not alone. I have done the very same thing, and I recently came face to face with one of those decisions in my own life.

That decision was to shelve Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean Inrather than asking how I could use it to make a difference. I read it with my book club when it first came out in 2013 and I immediately recognized the relevance of Sandberg’s ideas.

At the time, I was working as an adjunct English instructor at a college in the Seattle area. Like many women in workplaces across the country, I took an unpaid maternity leave, and then vied unsuccessfully to place my son in a subsidized daycare at my workplace. These were tough pills to swallow at a college that promoted feminist values.

Sandberg addresses this disconnect, and urges more women get into leadership roles, so they can pave the way for things to get better for all women. Yet, at the time, I wasn’t sure what leadership would look like outside of the classroom. I was tired, and I felt stuck, but I had no idea how to get unstuck. Sadly, I put Lean In back on my bookshelf and that’s where it stayed until a few weeks ago.

Since then, I’ve had a major career shift, and I’ve also expanded my family. My organizing business has inspired me to lean in to things I never would have in the past, and one of those things is networking. I’ve made it a point to invite someone I admire to get coffee with me each month. It’s been a practice that has made me feel more inspired on my own path and taught me about more resources in my own community. Recently, one of those women brought up Lean In.

She taught me that it isn’t just a book, it has become a movement in the past five years, and it has kept her accountable in her work and helped her move forward. I learned that there are Lean In chapters all over the world, with groups of women who meet in circles based on their interests. Lean In Seattle is actually the largest chapter in the world! Many credit their circles with major successes and achievements. I’d been wanting to start a goal setting and accountability group, but something kept telling me to wait. When I heard about the Lean In circles, I realized the wait had been worth it.

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to reengage with the Lean In movement at their fall circle kickoff. From the moment I walked in the door, I was welcomed, and ushered in to the most diverse group of women I’ve ever seen in one room, with the kind of collective positive energy and spirit of lifting others I’ve only dreamed could exist. Our common aim is that we all want to engage more deeply in some area of our lives or our work. Some women came for inspiration outside of work, others came to find a circle to address issues such as climate change, some are starting their own businesses, still others are Veterans or in active duty looking for community and support. The goal of Lean In is to move women forward in whatever area they choose.

I was wrong about Lean In being something that couldn’t apply in an academic setting, and I regret letting excuses get in my way. It can apply in every setting! My biggest take away from the event is this: add value in any way that you can, even if it feels small.

I’m excited to join a circle this fall, and I encourage you to join a circle as well, or tell the women in your life about this movement. It is too exciting to be shelved. As you go about your week, you might ask yourself if there’s something you’ve put off that is worth trying out again. If so, take action!


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