Happy With My Current Angle

My Facebook feed blew up last week with lots of friends reposting and commenting on a Washington Post column entitled “Recline, Don’t ‘Lean In’ (Why I Hate Sheryl Sandberg).” Among my friends, at least, there was a general pattern of “Yes!” and “I am so sick of Sheryl Sandberg.”

Disclosure: I bought Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” when it came out last year.

Fuller disclosure: All sorts of more important things have kept me from reading even a page of it, like binge watching 90210 before SoapNet left the air on December 31, reading bad gossip magazines, and combing Pinterest for recipes that I’ll never make.

That alone should tell you where I come down on the whole “Lean In” thing (is it a movement? A philosophy?) — sort of.

To be honest, I think Sheryl Sandberg is impressive. Kind of in the way I think some celebrities or politicians are impressive. Their lives aren’t attainable for mere mortals like myself — they have luck on their side, and plenty of money to throw at the problems in their lives, and small armies of people helping them be their successful selves — but they’re impressive all the same.

So, I have to give it to Sheryl Sandberg. She’s an enormously successful executive with (by superficial accounts, at least) a happy family, and she’s willing to, you know, acknowledge that family. She even — gasp! — talked publicly about juggling things to get home to have dinner with her kids.

(Side note: I find it kind of sad when making time to have dinner with your kids is a badge of honor.)

There are also plenty of valid criticisms of her call to “Lean In.” Rosa Brooks covers many of them in her Washington Post column, while Rebecca Traister mentions a bunch of others here.

Which is all to say, I’m not here to rehash the “Lean In” fight. But it reminded me of a post I wrote almost two years ago now, when I was leaving my former, crazy job for one that I hoped would afford me a little more normalcy and many fewer nightmares.

A short excerpt:

Two years ago, I had a really crappy couple of months. (Okay, so it’s safe to say that most of 2010 pretty much sucked.) But those months were also an opportunity — to think about what really mattered in my life, and to get some clarity on what I wanted to spend my time doing.

As part of that process, I promised B — and myself — that more than anything, I’d spend less time working. I’ve always been driven — not by money, but by my desire to do a good job, to get it right, to hit whatever goal someone set out in front of me.

Over the years, I’ve done a good job of hitting those marks. But that success has too often come with collateral damage: too much time spent away from home, or otherwise distracted while at home; frustration; stress; crabby Sundays; and, as I’ve learned all too acutely, bad effects on my health.

So, I had to take a long, hard look in the proverbial mirror. What was going to win: my ambition and drive, or my life?

Once I put it in those terms, the answer was obvious.

And as I thought about it, I was reminded of one of my favorite Anna Quindlen passages from her book “A Short Guide to a Happy Life.”

You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.

…Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you developed an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast while in the shower?

It turned out, I didn’t. And I still don’t. Which is why I’m thrilled to be moving to a job that, while it will use my best skills of editing and writing, will also feature more normal weeks, decidedly less responsibility, and — I hope — fewer Sunday night nightmares.

On paper, the move looks like a step backward. I get that, and I expected that not everyone in my life would agree with the move — and they don’t. But in my head and my heart, I know up, up, up isn’t the only way to move forward.

I’m glad to say that my hopes were realized. I go to work at a normal hour, I leave at a normal hour, I rarely bring work home with me, I don’t go on crazy trips where 18-hour workdays are the norm. (OK, I wouldn’t mind being back in a few of those hotels, if I could just sit around in the cushy robes and slippers.) The only nightmare I’ve had at this job was that I didn’t properly save a file. (Really. I’m a dork.) I loved managing people at my last job, and I may want to do it again someday, but for now I’m responsible only for myself, which is great.

It leaves me time to be responsible for finding Teddy’s jacket when he hides it in a random drawer and for baking a batch of brownies to eat while watching trash TV.

I’m not “Leaning In.” But I don’t necessarily feel like I’m reclining, either. I’m moving forward in my own way.

(I have to admit that I am posting this on a snow day when I had to work from home and the juggling was made possible by B taking on the lion’s share of building Lego towers, taking them down, and then stepping repeatedly on all the Lego pieces, and on a very unusual night when I’m still working. But it’s about the trend, and not the outliers — right?) 

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2 thoughts on “Happy With My Current Angle

  1. I love that you’ve found a balance and your line about not really “leaning in” but not necessarily reclining either is perfect. I gave up my ‘big job’ when my son was born. I’ve managed to find one that does mostly the same type of work, but part time. It’s been a pretty good balance, for me. Thanks for writing this.

  2. I think I’m just “leaning against” these days (against my family, against my dog, against a bag of Tostitos, etc.), but I’m much happier than when I was leaning in. You said it very well!

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