Have you read Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller ‘Lean In’ yet? It should (imho) be required reading for everyone, male and female, before they leave school to become the next generation of employees and employers. Certainly it’s a staple of my Springboard resource table.

Sandberg is Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and founder of the Lean In Foundation. The book is part of a wider conversation around the lack of women who are seen to step up and take on formal leadership roles compared to the number of men. Times are changing, it’s true, yet one thread that stands out for me is Sandberg’s belief that too many women opt out of their future career way before there’s any pressure on them to do so. She calls it ‘leaving before you leave’.

What does this mean? Well, from an early age girls and women live with society’s expectation that one day they’ll find a partner and have children – even if they don’t want those things yet, or never do. This future scenario will, women widely believe, inevitably result in a trade-off between their professional and personal goals – even if that trade-off is made willingly at the time. But here’s the killer: women stop reaching for new opportunities even before they’ve found that partner or become pregnant with that child.

This assumption about compromise begins really early, says Sandberg; she tells of a five year old girl who came home distraught from her after-school club because both she and the little boy she had a crush on wanted to be astronauts… “And when we go into space together, who will watch our kids?” Wow. One doesn’t imagine that for one moment the little boy had that at the top of his list of worries about space exploration.

Life is for most of us a compromise. Rarely can one have everything, for all sorts of valid reasons. But in a world where so many of our dreams and ambitions get set aside for unavoidable reasons, what a pity to think that we may be giving up on the things we could have had even earlier than we needed to. It may, after all, just have needed us to make fewer sweeping assumptions and be a little smarter with our strategy.

Sometimes doing the ‘sensible’ thing isn’t particularly sensible. There’s a lot to be said for biting off more than one can chew – and then chewing it anyway. OK, it might be difficult to digest, or you may decide to skip the after-dinner mints when you get to them; but to refuse the dinner invitation altogether ‘just in case’ is crazy, isn’t it?

Rebecca Winn

Winnthinking People Development

Tel: 01728 685726

Email: rebecca@winnthinking.co.uk

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