Do You Lean In and Sit at the Table? Do Women Have to Choose Being Nice or Being Successful?

I am reading the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (check it out here) and her ideas are profoundly resonating with me.  I had intended to have a health focus for this week’s blog post, but this topic of women speaking up equally is speaking to me!  In your business, whatever it may be (corporate, government, home business, parenting, volunteering, etc.), do you “sit at the table?”  Do you participate fully and believe that you deserve to be right there in the mix with everyone else, speaking up when you want to and leading the charge?

Unfortunately for many of us women, the answer is no – or maybe the answer is sometimes.

Next question, do you hide your awards and achievements or do you speak up and share excitedly that you have WON or been HONORED?

successFor me, the answer is that sometimes I have hidden my achievements and sometimes I have told a close friend or two, but I have never shouted any success from the rooftops.  I imagine it in my head – how awesome would it be to have a crowd of people congratulating me, looking up to me, smiling and clapping for me.  Wow.  Let me clarify:  I have won the occasional honor or award and certainly at the time of receiving something like that, there is usually a crowd – virtual or physical – smiling and clapping.  But then afterwards, did I spread the word and share my successes with people?  No.

Sandberg cites some interesting statistics and concludes that for all our gains in equality, it still seems that women are either nice and well-liked, or ambitious and successful – not both.  Shouting your success from the rooftops?  Get ready for some backlash about selfish ambition.

So, you can read the book yourselves, right?  I don’t need to restate.  Here’s why this whole topic resonates with me.  I was a very successful student in school.  When I was in 1st grade (1st grade!), my friend and I were separated from the class into our own little independent group and we worked on more advanced reading independently.  Until about 5th grade, I had no idea that this was any sort of issue socially.  I skipped through life on my merry way.  Then came middle school and I realized that I was acquiring a label.  There was one quarter during 7th grade for which mine was the only name on the A Honor Roll.  Hard to hide that.  But I was as happy as a middle schooler can be; I had friends and I had activities.  We moved to a new state right before my 9th grade year.  I decided I would reinvent myself!  But, I still earned good grades, and no matter how many extracurricular activities I participated in, I had a label.  Possibly one of the most impactful things that has ever been said to me occurred at my part-time grocery store job at the end of my sophomore year of high school.  I had started dating a guy I met at work (who attended school with me as well).  Fairly soon after we started dating, a well-meaning (?) acquaintance told me that she had stood up for me when some other guys asked my boyfriend why he would ever date me since I was too smart.  “Too smart?!”  I am not a genius, for heaven’s sake!  I just did well in school.  That comment created intense flashbacks of earlier school experiences and has stuck with me to this day, over 20 years later.  Too smart?  Equally memorable to this instance, was the time I found out that some people referred to my sister (two years younger in school) and I as the “smart one” and the “pretty one.”  Guess which one I was!  (My sister didn’t love this either; she is pretty – but she is also an architect.)

Let me say again, I was pretty happy.  I didn’t really understand all the angst that hiding the “smart” was going to create inside me.  I went to a selective college, and I was no longer singled out.  There were lots of “smart” girls!  Then I went to a selective graduate school and I was even more mixed in with the crowd.  Fine, good, happy.

Then I would win an award here or there.  These were nothing huge, but they were honors that I was proud of.  And I would duck my head and say “thank you,” and downplay the whole thing.  Fast forwarding 20 years, I started my own business.  In my business I am educating people as to another way to treat their bodies, and another way to create an income.  I am going against the norm.  And I find myself ducking my head, not sitting at the big people’s table, and not striving for the kind of attention-getting, amazing, awesome success that I could have.  Something doesn’t go the way I want it to go?  I duck my head, turn around, wonder what I did wrong.  What if I did nothing wrong?  What if I and my business are awesome and that poor, misguided person just didn’t have the vision to see it?  I do not think that way – but I am trying to learn.

Hold your head high!  Every single one of us is awesome at something.  Every single one of us has been unfairly labeled in some way – by either a malicious person or a well-meaning person.  Every single one of us needs to believe in our core and in our subconscious that we can do whatever we set out to do.  Don’t let your fear of failure or ridicule or not being liked create self-doubt in your mind that limits you.  Find YOUR dreams.  By all means, take into account your family’s needs and the needs and concerns of the key people and issues in your life, but accept your awards, shout your success, and NEVER be embarrassed about being awesome!

Do you agree or disagree?  Have you had similar experiences?  Comment and let me know!

Cheryl (82 Posts)

I am a wife and mom and animal lover who is passionate about health and about following my dreams. I am a lover of change and challenges! I started my home business almost two years ago and I have been able to switch to part-time instead of full-time high school teaching. How wonderful to be creating a dream life and helping others to do so as well -- all while finding healthier versions of products we all use everyday.


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