UPDATE: Sheryl Sandberg has contacted us and we are awaiting her official response. We will post any follow up here.
I wanted to start this post by saying that, despite our differing opinions, I admire Sheryl Sandberg and how she has opened up conversations about gender in the workplace.
But fuck that.
Instead, I'm going to say, without apology, that I'm sick of you - yes, you, Sheryl Sandberg (and the whole rest of the gang) - telling me to "lean in".
Leaning In is Bad for Us
Here is my central thesis, now hear me out as I calm down my anger and get real: The "Lean In" culture that Sheryl Sandberg has created has done more damage than good to the psyche of young women in the tech world. I am speaking only to women in their twenties, since I can only speak from experience here.
Women in tech are a special breed. We've been driven to the industry. We haven’t just arrived here by accident. We've been driven here by an unwavering belief that we can do more, build more, fight harder, and work smarter.
To add to that, in general (yes, there are exceptions, blah blah), twenty-something women already feel guilty enough about not being everything all at once: We're not working hard enough to even out the gender ratio in tech, we're not working hard enough to be better girlfriends/wives/mothers, we're abandoning our kids, no, we shouldn't have kids at this age, and if we do, we're obviously doing something wrong, and we're not skinny enough or we're too skinny and don't have Kim Kardashian butts and our boyfriends keep watching porn and our friends all have boyfriends, so why don't we? and Lululemon keeps telling us to do yoga and floss every day, but we all keep forgetting. The guilt just piles on top of itself.
“Leaning in" is not the answer to our larger cultural problem and the unrealistic expectations the tech world sets for both men and women. Leaning in is an option, certainly. But, for most of us, "leaning in" will keel us all over into burnout. It will lean us all into lives we're still inexplicably unhappy about living, always seeking the next way to “lean in” and “get ahead”, no matter what physical or emotional toll it may take. No matter what drugs you have to do. Never mind that you’re falling apart and haven’t had any time for yourself all week in between working and your commute back and forth to Palo Alto.
What Sheryl Sandberg ignores is that whatever we're leaning in to is an arbitrary boundary that will lead us into nowhere. To "lean in", as she describes, or as society has taken it to mean, is to push harder in the workplace and to keep going despite the fact that our laundry hasn’t been done in weeks and our apartment is hardly lived in.
And, personally, I feel that pushing into other people's bullshit boundaries and arbitrary organizational frameworks is a waste of my time.
Ask Better Questions
So if leaning in isn't the answer, what is? Well, I think we're asking the wrong question.
The question we're currently asking is "How can women (and men) advance to positions of power, specifically in their careers? How can they get ahead? How can we work to create family-friendly workplaces where women don’t have to feel like they must choose between home life and work life.”
Leaning into the system may or may not advance you. If you manipulate the system, you'll probably make it some distance up the ladder. Congratulations, how lovely. The truth is, however, getting to the top involves a lot more than just working really hard. It involves playing the game.
So the real questions we should be asking center around our values as a society, especially the values we thrust upon women in this society. We don't need to keep pushing, pushing, pushing. What we need is to fucking chill the fuck out.
This is why I say that Sheryl's message is bad for women in their twenties. We should be seeking self-esteem, peace, confidence to take leaps of faith, and well-rounded happiness.
Anything else is just supporting the same dumb system that keeps us all unhappy and driving toward some ethereal end point that doesn't exist. We should be creating things, thinking of new ways to solve problems, starting our own businesses, taking breaks to go for walks with friends or feed our puppies.
There’s Got to Be A Better Way
Leaning in is, sadly, not what will get you to the top. It is not what will get you recognized. If you want to get to the top in an organization, you need to take off-the-wall chances or play the stupid political games that go on at most offices. Get in with the “cool crowd”. Make the C Suite care about what you’re doing (good luck up there).
What will get you to the top and still have you loving life? Taking leaps of faith, laughing at the naysayers, blowing off people who ignore you, caring about people and organizations that make you healthier and that care about the core of you rather than what you can simply do for them, celebrating your family and friends and all the love that you can create together.
Anyway, that's the kind of life I want to live. That's the kind of life we should aspire to, not just refusing to stop working even when we're pregnant. I do not want that life. I do not envy Marissa Meyer and her in-office nursery. That is not an ideal existence.
Do what helps you love yourself and helps you sleep at night.
But if you tell me to "lean in" again, I will tell you to lean over and kiss my ass.