Tag Archives: job

To Lean Or Not To Lean?

19 Mar

Last week I received my pre-ordered copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial new book Lean In, and I gobbled it down in just a few days.  I’d been reading a lot of the reviews and hearing a lot of press (including, annoyingly, discussions on shows like Bill Maher where it was obvious none of the panelists had read the book), and I was very curious to read it for myself and make up my own mind.

I could write many posts just on this one book (and I may eventually do so), but what’s on my mind today is the notion of when to lean in and when to lean back.  Sandberg points out, I think accurately, that men are generally more likely to be confident and to “sit at the table,” faking it till they make it.  I’ve certainly witnessed this phenomenon amongst friends and colleagues.  But what I think is also true is that men are more comfortable saying no to certain opportunities or responsibilities — in other words, leaning back — when they don’t feel that it will serve their present needs or schedule.  Sandberg talks about burnout, and I think saying no is a key aspect of preventing burnout:  the ability to trim the fat and avoid those activities that are unnecessary or unproductive.  

I have almost always “leaned in” at work.  But because I have an extremely hard time saying no (guilt isn’t new to me as a mother after all), I find myself sometimes just trying valiantly to keep my head above water.  I’m not talking about things that are part and parcel of the job: as a lawyer (and a relatively junior lawyer at that), I obviously work on any cases to which I am assigned and try to provide the best possible service to the clients.  I’m talking about all the extras: committees at work, charitable organizations, networking groups.  Some of these things energize and excite me, and allow me to meet interesting people and support worthy causes.  But some of these things, admittedly, become just another item on an overlong “to-do” list.  

Recently an article has been circulating about never saying “yes,” only ever saying “hell yeah!” or “no.”  Critics of this philosophy point out that some people don’t have the option to say no — for example, if you need to work three jobs to make ends meet, you are hardly going to turn down opportunities.  But for a discussion about trimming the “extras,” I think this philosophy is basically a good one.

When I was growing up, my mother was always very committed to her work, whether she was teaching elementary school, later being a professor, or doing consulting and workshops in schools.  Before retiring last year, she was also often overcommitted.  Some of the things she did so clearly brought her immense joy and satisfaction, and so she didn’t mind her plate being so full.  But with others, I knew they were more of a burden than a pleasure.  I often lectured her about scaling back and learning to say no to people.

It’s only recently that I’ve realized how similar I am in that respect.  But whereas before my daughter was born, I was resigned to continuing with all these various activities, I am now forcing myself to take a hard look to see if there is any fat I can trim.  Once I go back to work, I will have very little time to spend with her, and I know I will be resentful if too much of that time is spent on additional meetings or conference calls.  The difficult part is trying to figure out which things may be helpful to my career advancement (even if not terribly exciting in the short term) and which are not.  I previously operated under the premise that if someone offers me an opportunity of any kind, I should grasp it, because it will wind up being helpful in some fashion at some point down the line.  That may be true in the long term, but I know I need to think more critically about what I want my life to look like in the present.

Among professionals and new mothers alike, there seems to be a cult of sleeplessness, of bragging about how much can be accomplished on minimal sleep.  But I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m exhausted, and that I don’t want to be indefinitely.  For that reason, I’m committed to getting my head permanently above water so that I can really swim.

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Why I Care About Marissa Mayer

5 Mar

I’ve been thinking of writing about this topic ever since word emerged that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, was abolishing the company policy which previously allowed employees to work remotely.  But I was particularly inspired to do so when I read this post by Sarah Lacy on Pando Daily, admonishing that anyone who disagrees with Ms. Mayer’s decision– which Lacy equates to my decision to eat Chinese food for lunch–should just shut up because Ms. Mayer is busy keeping her head down and trying to run a company, thankyouverymuch.  Lacy previously issued a condescending response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in which she basically said Slaughter should shut up about women not having it all because Lacy has figured out how to “have it all,” thankyouverymuch.  (The one part of Lacy’s piece I did agree with was that every person has a different definition of “having it all.”)

By the way, what’s with this preoccupation with shutting people up?  Disagreeing with people’s viewpoints is one thing; trying to silence dissenting viewpoints is another.

On the topic of “having it all,” as well as on the topic of Marissa Mayer’s policy edicts, I think Lacy misses the point.  Just because Lacy has figured out — kudos to her — how to create a balance that works for her family doesn’t mean that there aren’t institutional problems.  The fact remains that, as Slaughter discusses at length, the American workplace is generally unfriendly to the realities of family life and child-rearing.  This is not just a woman problem or a feminist issue.  It is a problem that affects us all.

As for Ms. Mayer, I can’t disagree more with Lacy’s suggestion that her decisions don’t matter unless you work at Yahoo!  At this moment in our society, we can either move toward policies that are more progressive and flexible, or away from them.  Companies and their CEOs do not make these policy decisions in a vacuum; they look to other similar institutions to see what’s being done.  Yahoo! may have previously been used as a template for flexible work arrangements, and now, it will likely be touted by those in favor of the traditional emphasis on “face time” to insist that we haven’t moved past needing to be at our cubicles all day, after all.

One thing I can concede is that I don’t work at Yahoo! and I don’t know the realities of the company’s operations.  Perhaps Ms. Mayer’s conclusion that her employees need to be in the office to do their work is well-reasoned based on past performance.  And as Slaughter herself points out, Mayer’s job is first and foremost to save her company, not to concern herself with the cultural zeitgeist.  But there is still no doubt in my mind that how Mayer runs Yahoo! –as well as how other CEOs, men and women, run their companies– will have a broader impact, and for that reason it matters to me.  If you care about how America’s economy and society are structured, it should matter to you, too.

The Old Me

15 Jan

Bob Porter: “Looks like you’ve been missing a lot of work lately.”

Peter Gibbons: “I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob.”  

– Office Space 

A few months before Lucy was born, at the prodding of my law firm’s marketing director, I joined a formal networking group.  It meets in Westwood the third Tuesday of every month at 7:30 a.m., and is comprised of lawyers, CPAs, real estate agents, insurance brokers…basically anyone who provides a service.  The point of the group is to build relationships with the other members for the purpose of eventually referring business.

When I was first approached by my marketing director, I was reluctant, to say the least, to check this group out.  It’s part of a larger networking organization of which many partners in my firm are members, and it just seemed overly formal, overly blatant about getting business referrals, and just generally not my cup of tea.  (I love people, but I hate when it feels like schmoozing.)  So for many months, through the spring and summer, I put off attending a meeting.

Finally, in late summer, I sucked it up and drove out to Westwood in the early morning.  I was happily surprised that not only does the group include other young people and several other women, but everyone was extremely warm and welcoming.  Then I faced a quandary — did it make sense to join a group knowing that in a few months I’d be having Lucy and begin a 6-month maternity leave?  But I figured (not knowing whether this was overly optimistic) that this would be a good way to retain some small connection to the working world during my leave.

Understandably, I missed the November and December meetings.  The November meeting was just three days after Lucy was born, and even by the December meeting (at about the 1-month mark) I just wasn’t in the frame of mind to be donning business attire and leaving the house in the morning.  I wasn’t sure I was going to attend this month’s meeting either, but when I received an email from the group leader that attendance at this particular meeting was “strongly encouraged,” I decided to bite the bullet.  I arranged for my mom to come over at 8 am to be with Lucy when Hubs went to work.

Then this morning, I almost bailed.  Last night was not the easiest with the little bean, and I woke up exhausted.  I had planned to hop in the shower no later than 5:45, but I ended up feeding Lucy at 5:30 (Hubs had handled the 2:30 a.m. feeding and I didn’t want to break his deep sleep), so I ran out of time.  The best I could do was comb my hair into a bun, and I looked and felt like a disaster.  Still, I put on a black pantsuit (yay for being able to button the jacket again!), some black heels that I haven’t worn in months, and hit the road.  On the way I thought to myself, “It’s not too late to go home and try to get some more sleep…”

But as it turns out, going to this meeting was the best thing I could have done for myself today.  I wouldn’t have expected this since I don’t even know the people in the group that well, but today I felt more like “myself” than I have since Lucy was born.  I have become so hyper-focused on Lucy and on mamahood that I really needed that reminder that I have a career and a life outside of Lucy, too.  I studied and worked hard to become a lawyer and I get satisfaction from it.  So while there are certain things about my job I don’t love (billable hours…) there are things I do love (the intellectual challenge, the camaraderie, the problem solving).

Before Lucy I always thought I would want to continue working outside the home, even if I had a choice not to.  Then Lucy came along and I fell so in love with her that I thought maybe I would really want to be a SAHM if I could.  But now I’m realizing my first instinct was right.  I love Lucy, and I love being a mom, but I’m not cut out for staying at home full-time.  Along with my feeling of relaxation, I’ve also been feeling a bit like my brain is turning to mush, and today helped!  Of course, attending one morning meeting is quite different than a full-time job, and I know I will have a tough adjustment once I do return to work.  But it is nice to have a way to gradually ease back into that world before I have to jump back into all the deadlines and stresses that go along with it.

When I came home, I shared my thoughts with my mom, who agreed that it’s important for me to maintain my career.  Always wise, she said the following:

It may be very hard to think about, but although Lucy is the most important person in your life, you won’t be the most important person in her life.  And that’s how it should be.”

I apparently taught my mom that lesson early on.  At the tender age of 8, as she loves to recount, I wrote her a Mother’s Day card with the sentimental note, “Just think — only 10 more years.”  In other words, I was envisioning my departure from the house before I had even left elementary school!  It’s so hard to imagine when she is just a baby, but Lucy may very well be the same way, and I need to be able to laugh about it.  I think that will be much easier to do if I hold on, to some degree, to the “old me.”