It’s OK to “Lean In” on Something Other Than Work

Sheryl Sandberg's vision of "Lean In" could limit our definition of success, meaning and purpose. What if you chose to lean in on something more personal?

This post was originally published at Motherly.

What if we “leaned in” to something other than just our careers?

I greatly admire Sheryl Sandberg’s vision with her “Lean In” movement and personally found great value in her book; I love how she helped us look beyond traditional linear careers and inspired us to be our personal best version as we navigate the complex world of work and family.

More importantly, I admired that she has been asking us to lean in to our careers so that we have more women at the top not to have power for the sake of power but because when women run the world, the world benefits.

It is a bold, audacious and an incredibly noble vision to aspire for a world with more women in influential positions.

However, this vision can also imply a very limiting definition of success, meaning and purpose that is very generic and doesn’t take into account that not every woman aspires the same for her life. This movement has unintentionally also sent a message that if you are not aspiring to be in the C suite of your organization, you are not “leaning in,” perhaps implying that you are not good enough.

What if we expand the definition of leaning in to not just your career but also your personal life? What if it was okay for women (and men!) to decide, without pressure or obligation, how much “work” and how much “life” is right for them?

What if climbing up to the top of your organization was one of the many ways to lean in—and not the only way? What if we were to optimize for personal fulfillment and social impact? We may have just as many or maybe slightly fewer women at the top than what Sheryl envisions but we’d have a world with more joy, meaning, peace, empowerment and the permission for each woman to authentically define what lean in means to her.

What if leaning in also meant:

  • Saying no to that promotion as a Director of Brand Management so you have the time to build a non-profit that provides sanitary napkins to women in developing countries.
  • Taking a sabbatical to write the Brunch & Breakfast Cookbook that you have always wanted to write.
  • Moving from a manager role to an individual contributor as a creative designer to pursue your love for design work.
  • Moving your growing family to a different country and embracing a different culture and pace of life.
  • Quitting your well-paying consulting job to spend time with your children, visit museums and parks and work towards your dream of working at an art gallery.

The point isn’t to not aspire to be at the top but to remind yourself that there are many ways of leaning in.

Make decisions around work and life that put you at peace, not ones that only please others.

Think about how you want to spend the waking hours of your life, and ponder what you want to best model for your children. Work backwards from vision of the woman you want to be. Design that around that vision. Lean in to your life.

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