Another treatise on women lacking confidence has come out and met with the usual national PR splash. Put it in on the shelf next to the one that says we aren’t leaning in. The lacking confidence one is by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in The Atlantic’s May 2014 cover story, called “The Confidence Gap”. Kay and Shipman write that, despite being just as qualified as men, women often hold themselves back.
Well, let’s look at that for a moment, as a truth. Why would that be? Is there a reason we would hold ourselves back? Back from the tippy-top positions. The ones that require you to be super-glued to your job, working 12 hour days, being a bit ruthless to succeed, and for a time, putting everything – family, spouse, and self – on the back burner.
A colleague of mine who is, by any measure, at the very top of her field, has written a book – “Sweet as Pie, Tough as Nails”. She has had personal sacrifice to be there, at the top, some of which I wouldn’t write about, but which would not settle well in my sense of success, balance, life.
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled. Stalled! Now that is an interesting word choice. And I would agree. We have “stalled”. But I believe it is a deliberate and intentional stall. And a healthy one. Men should try it.
When men tell women what they lack or how they should change or do something differently, it comes with a certain “oh, well, they don’t really know us” – but when women receive accolades and get interviewed on national talk shows because they are “eating their own”, telling other women that yes, we don’t lean in enough; we don’t reach for the very top, we aren’t equal, we lack confidence, women perhaps rush to buy the book, rush to be better, to work harder, to read advice columns on how to ask for a raise, or how to lead, or how to get less sleep, and fit more hours in the day.
As we sit here in our “stalling time”, let’s think about our success. I won’t attempt to define it here. Because that would be as wrong as telling us what we need to do. For each one of us it will be different. For some it will be family, children, and being there for a period of time to fully participate in it all. For others it will be years and years of education and then – a role as a doctor or researcher who will quietly save lives every single day, without time to think if she’s leaned in or not.
As the pendulum of home – work – home – work continues to sway, we seek equilibrium, most of us. We seek balance and energy. To walk through our lives energized, and not exhausted. To not need Ambien to sleep and drown ourselves in coffee, or worse, to get on with our day.
As I look back at my 50-something advice to my 20-something daughters I say, go ahead and stall. Now’s a good time. You’ve got the education and the path is before you. Stall, just for a while. Watch your path. Measure your life. Lean in one way – or lean in the other way. Or lean a little bit in both. Think of your tombstone and read the obituaries. How would you like yours to read? Think of, gulp, me. Where do I fall short – and why? What choices did I not have freedom to make? What would the choices have been if I was free to make them?
Stall. Define yourself. Lean in for no one. Have the confidence to stand still and think. When you put your foot forward on your path, you might know more about where you want it to go, rather than jumping on for a ride you may not want to go on.
Think about balance. Think about pendulums. Think about standing still. Being quiet. Look at the ocean. Write your 5 year plan. Write your obituary. Write mine. Stall as long as you want. And remember, you can always come back and stall – again.