Where to “Lean In”

There’s been a lot of talk recently about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book and website, “Lean In.”    While the book just comes out today and I haven’t yet read it, all the brouhaha seems to be about how women make choices when seeking a balanced life.  Part of it is about having the courage and self-worth to take opportunities when they present themselves; part of it is about knowing when to say no as well.

As an Entrepreneur, Mom, Author, and every other hat I wear, I face these issues daily.  I have to make choices, and sometimes, they are difficult to make.  Do I take a meeting, on the hopes that business will come out of it, or do I go to my son’s musical, knowing there are another three performances I can see, but miss opening night?  Do I go on a trip hoping it leads to business, or stay home and work on projects both business and familial?  Does this client I’m talking to need my help, or someone else’s?  Do I refer out business or try to be a general contractor and manage a project with subcontractors?

Julien Smith has a great post today about Missing the Subway,  essentially referencing that even if you miss an opportunity, there is probably another one just around the bend- you just have to wait for it, and realize when it comes into the station.  This is a great metaphor for what we all face every day.  It’s a series of small choices, about whether this particular opportunity is yours, taking you where you want to go, or is it taking you on a detour from your goal?  Is this your opportunity, or is it really someone else’s, and your job is to pass it along to the right person?  Are you too nervous to take the opportunity as your own, and instead decide to defer?  What serves the best interests of you, and those around you?

These decisions aren’t easy, especially if you are trying to grow and stretch your boundaries of what’s possible.  Sometimes it means taking something or pitching for a deal you think you can do, but it will require learning new skills and expanding your expertise along the way- a growth project.  Sometimes it also means being willing to refer work out, when it’s beyond your ability to ensure a good job is done.

The temptation, of course, is to take every opportunity that comes your way, in fear that another one won’t be there when you need it.  Last night, I was speaking to some friends who are moms and have small businesses, and we shared the worry of the roller coaster life of business, and the worry that when things get slow, it means no one loves us, and we should start questioning why we do what we do.  But often, after a bit of self-doubt and maybe a little questioning of self-worth, business picks up again, and we often wonder why we were so worried for that brief respite.  Often the worry is for naught, and it probably prevented us from enjoying the little breather we got before the next opportunity came in to consume our time and efforts.

I try to remember that everyone goes through this, not just women and moms.  Ira Glass did an interview with Susan Orlean, Malcolm Gladwell and Chuck Klosterman, where each of these fantastic writers talked about the fear of running out of words, or waking up and finding they just couldn’t write.  I try to remember that this fear of what’s next, or the lack of anything around the bend hits us all, and while it can lead to some constructive soul searching, it’s often free floating anxiety that is just looking for a place to land.

Leaning in as a concept that, at least to me, means having a little more faith and courage to take that opportunity that’s a bit of a stretch, and also to have faith that things will work out in the end.  Very few “missed opportunities” are fatal.  Even those that later on, you might regret not taking, hopefully will serve as a lesson to recognize and grasp the good ones that come your way, not just every single one that comes down the pike.  Being selective, when you can be, is probably a better use of your energy than grabbing the first thing that’s available.

The truth is that even the most successful people around have self-doubt and regret.  But rather than wallow, it’s more important to take some action- learn something new, explore, make different choices, make new opportunities by putting yourself out there a bit more.  Self-doubt and regret are cousins of fear. It’s only by recognizing them and learning to ignore “The Obnoxious roommate”, as Arianna Huffington calls that nagging voice of self-doubt in the back of your head, that you’ll get to the next level.

Lean In to me means learning to do what’s right for me at the time, taking on new opportunities when they appear and seem right, and forgiving myself for any perceived errors and mistakes, knowing that I am my own harshest critic.    Trust yourself to make the best choices you can at the time. Forgive yourself for any errors, and learn from them. And most of all, go for that brass ring, even if it makes you a bit nervous.  Worst comes to worst, you’ll be glad you tried.

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