What is “Lean In?”
No doubt you have all heard of “Lean In”, the 2013 book written by Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook”. It was aimed at women and inspired a movement of women to to “Lean In” – commonly taken to mean to aim higher, do more within the corporate environment. It addressed various restraints imposed on women either by the system or by women themselves.
It’s become a bit of a thing – “to lean in”.
I observed two things happen after the publication of the book.
The External Comparator of Leaning In – the one where people feel bad about themselves
Firstly – many women started comparing themselves with other women; and is often the way in such comparisons, felt that they came off badly. Women started questioning why they couldn’t achieve “as much” as person x; and felt it was something the matter with them, rather than the issue of comparison in the first place. The cry to “Lean In” wasn’t working.
It’s an oft quoted saying these days not to compare our own “real” life with the “reel life” of others that we see portrayed on social media and the like. But the saying works for the “lean in” comparison as well. We don’t really know about others’ lives – and comparing ourselves achieves nothing other than usually making us feel less worthy about ourselves.
But then, the second thing started happening.
The Internal Comparator of Leaning In – the one where people feel excited about the possibilities
So, the second thing was that women (but it applies equally to men) realised that the only comparator that really matters is themselves. So, rather than looking longingly on someone else’ life, I started observing people creating their own best versions of their own lives.
I am seeing examples of this on a daily basis. Where people have decided that they want to get better, grow, develop, create more; you name it. But rather than doing this because person x is doing it, they are doing it because THEY want it. And rather than following person x’s path, they’re creating their own path.
The good thing about comparing yourself to yourself is that you are comparing apples with apples rather than apples with oranges. Which is really the only useful comparison, as we never really know what it is like to be in some one else’s life; what support and challenges the other person experiences.
Lean in towards your own best life
So “leaning in” towards yourself usually means a pretty objective look at where you are at now and where you really want to go. Remember it is all very well wishing you had person x’s fame, fortune or position, but you need to be clear about whether you want the attendant hard work and long hours and grind to get there. Many people don’t want to work 70 hour weeks, or study continuously or do the hard slog to have “overnight success.” So, an honest appraisal of where you really want to be, and why is the first step.
And then, it’s a matter of just putting it into action.
The great thing is that it doesn’t need to be significant changes that put you on your new path. But consistent, regular and iterative changes. So, if being known as an expert in your field is important to where you want to be – you could start by posting useful linked in articles to relevant groups and commenting on other people’s articles and perspectives. You could make sure you are a member of the most relevant industry group and see if you can take a more active role in that. You could put your hand up to be a key note presenter.
You could set yourself a challenge to do one thing a week or a month that is out of your comfort zone and that takes you closer to where you want to be. Maybe you could convince a friend to be your accountability coach to keep you honest or on track (or work with an actual coach who will help bring clarity to your goals and help with your pathway to get there).
The point is that none of these steps have to be earth shattering. They just need to be deliberate movement in the right direction. And they need to honestly appraise what has held you back to date and start to address this. Once again, you’re not looking to fundamentally change overnight, but simply identify your destination and work out a path that will get you there; a path that provides growth and an element of pride and joy.
The wonderful thing about this iterative path is that it is self creating. Once you’re on the path, more opportunities present themselves. Once you have the confidence to start accepting opportunities, more opportunities present themselves.
I am not discounting that this stuff can be difficult, but I think we make it more difficult that it needs to be. Just start. Anywhere. Movement begets movement. Progress begets progress. Growth begets growth.
So, this week my challenge to you is to Lean In – but to yourself. Take a deep look at where you really want to go. And if you don’t know, but would like to answer that question, think about what you can do that will help you with that step; the first step to being on your new path.
Until next week, happy leaning!