When Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, released her best-selling book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” a year ago, I was offended and upset.
In a nutshell, “Lean In” is a book meant to empower women and start a larger conversation about gender in the workforce and home. Like the title suggests, it’s a book encouraging women of all generations to seek leadership positions and reach their full potential, even if that means missing out on some experiences with their families. In all, it is a respectable book written by an expert who has succeeded professionally while also making some of life’s more difficult decisions regarding family.
I was vaguely familiar with Sandberg’s background, but had never actually read the book, which led me to misinterpret its message for almost a whole year. While critics and women’s rights advocates were hyping it as the motivation many women need to take control of their lives and careers, I saw it as an attack on my lifestyle.
Like Sandberg, my mom has a master’s in business administration and was often the only woman in her workplace. However, unlike Sandberg, my mom left her career after I was born in 1996 and has since dedicated her time to our family and our community.
Reflecting on the last 17 years, I can say with certainty that my mom’s decision greatly benefited my childhood and helped define the person I am today. Even though she was over-qualified to coach my middle school tennis team, help me with my book reports or assist me in studying for spelling tests, my mom chose to do so because it mattered to her.
And I realized after reading “Lean In” that Sandberg is not decrying stay-at-home moms. She is not labeling women who choose to raise their children full time as ungrateful for the generations who fought for gender equality. Instead, she is advocating for men and women to reconsider gender stereotypes and define their roles on their own terms.
While it would be impossible to summarize her well thought-out book in a single column, “Lean In” also left me pondering two large ideas that apply to men and women alike.
The first idea Sandberg promotes in “Lean In” is the importance of respecting the decisions of others. While my mom and Sandberg may have made different choices regarding their roles in their families, it does not mean that one was right while the other was wrong. And that extends beyond the debate of women staying at home. Every person has a different life situation with varying factors that affects how he or she makes decisions. If choosing to do one thing works best for the individual and his or her family, it should not matter what others have to say.
The other main idea Sandberg discusses is confidence. Looking at her poised smile on the cover of “Lean In” and glancing at her resume (she worked at McKinsey & Company, the U.S. Treasury Department and Google prior to her current role at Facebook), I would never have expected that confidence was something Sandberg was lacking. Yet, after reading her poignant anecdotes from high school, college and work, I found Sandberg to be much more relatable than I could have predicted. While she has faced her share of struggles to speak up and express her views, she shares advice that it can never hurt to hear: you cannot stand in your own way. As I am looking forward to starting college in the near future and entering the workforce after that, few pieces of advice could be more valuable. Reading “Lean In” didn’t make me more confident or give me the secret to success, but it did give me the motivation to empower myself.
While the cover of “Lean In” touts the book as being about women, it really does convey important messages for everyone. We can’t all be the COO of Facebook, but we all can take up the conversation about equality and confidence.
Annika Ulrich is a senior at Aragon High School in San Mateo. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at firstname.lastname@example.org.