I just started Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, and it more than resonates — this bell has been ringing loudly and wildly for some time. I wanted to share some of the notes that I made. Note: I linked to Sandberg’s organization, leanin.org. It’s an excellent resource for women and men who want to improve women’s chances of success. We need to get more women in leadership roles and part of that is to give them tools to move their careers forward.

First of all, Lean In exemplifies what it means for a woman to be in the workforce today. I’m not in management and haven’t been for years, but when I was, I bungled it badly. Part of that was not having any training, but a good deal of it was due to thinking there was no way I could do this job, that I was a fraud, and therefore if I tried I would only fail miserably, so why even do my best?

As a result, I failed. Miserably.

I’m still only in Chapter 4 and Sandberg has already touched on the social conditioning that prevents girls and women from excelling in the workplace. Some of it is the glass ceiling, but a good deal of it is training. The attributes women are socialized for in school and in life — take your turn, be nice, be humble, play fair, raise your hand, and share — are exactly what they are dinged for in the office.

Now, Sandberg points out that women are also penalized for not “being nice” in the office and so it’s a barbed-wire catch-22. But she does talk about methods to circumvent the cultural conditioning that rewards men for asking for a raise but penalizes women for the same. And let me tell you, even women who know they have been hurt by this same social conditioning will turn around and do it to other women in turn, it’s that pernicious.

Pop quiz: Do you do this?

Ask a man to explain his success and he will typically credit his own innate qualities and skills. Ask a woman the same question and she will attribute her success to external factors, insisting she did well because she “worked really hard” or “got lucky” or “had help from others.” … When a man fails he points to factors like “didn’t study enough” or “not interested in the subject matter.” When a woman fails, she is more likely to believe it is due to an inherent lack of ability.

I believe that Sandberg’s Lean In also has relevance to women in all their careers, including writing or other arts. I think we step back a little too much and defer just a little too much than is good for us. It takes great hubris to write or paint or play. I think women should lean in to their art just as much as Sandberg is hoping to urge women to lean in to a lucrative career.

Every time I’ve stepped up for my writing my work has improved and I’ve succeeded. Just the simple fact of scheduling writing into my day, rather than letting it languish in between chores, was a tremendous step forward. Commitment works just as much for our lives and avocations as they do for paying work.

How have you leaned in to your writing or art?



A3 · April 2, 2013 at 7:24 pm

This year I have been trying to write 100 words (or more) a day. Every day. That’s worked really well when I’ve been in writing mode, but not so well when I’ve been in editing or deep thought mode (that whole “insert brilliant stuff here” problem). But even with days hit by editing and deep thought mode, I’ve been way more productive with this goal than I was before …

Patrice Sarath · April 2, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Do you ever get sidetracked? Not just by “deep thought mode” but do you let yourself be distracted from the main goal or allowing other people to distract you? I found that when I committed to writing I also had to set up some firm boundaries about when the family could interrupt me.

The first time I ran the Writers Boot Camp at Armadillocon, we discussed family sabotage from spouses, children, significant others, etc. Sometimes when we lean in, it’s not as easy for the people around us to let go.

A3 · April 4, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Do I ever get sidetracked? Hahaha yes. Sometimes I do it to myself – had to get the taxes done, after all. Sometimes it is my family – how can I resist my lovely and wonderful daughter when she says, “Mom, I don’t have a lot of homework tonight. Can we watch Dr. Who together?” But I am trying to learn to say, “I need to finish writing first – give me a few minutes.” The nice thing about 100 words a day is that it really doesn’t take that long … unless I get distracted by naming characters, or designing aliens, or figuring out how to change a planet’s atmosphere …

Patrice Sarath · April 4, 2013 at 6:08 pm

That is a doable goal, and setting boundaries in a respectful way works for everyone.

One of the things I’ve always had problems with is when aspiring writers* don’t write because they put up their own family roadblocks. “My kids require all my attention,” or “there’s so much to do.”

I tell them if they can get past that they will start writing, but it’s up to them to set the boundaries. Also, it’s not fair to blame your kids for not writing. And there’s always so much to do. It will all require doing even when you finish it. It just starts up again. Might as well write!

*I consider you far past this stage. You no longer aspire to write, you write.

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