Sheryl Sandberg makes me feel guilty

The saturating media coverage of Sheryl Sandberg, and her new book, Lean In have left me feeling a little guilty and a little confused. Like a splinter, something about her message lodged and irritated, and I wasn’t quite sure why. And then I read this post on Penelope Trunk’s blog.

In her post, Ms. Trunk, blogger, career coach, homeschooling mother, says, “I am doing a life that she [Sandberg] would hate” and feels bad she doesn’t measure up to Sheryl Sandberg’s stratospheric standard. Me too. (For those who have missed the barrage of media, Sandberg argues that women should aim high towards big careers and positions of power; they need not cut back and slow track themselves.)

The problem is, I never wanted the big corporate or government position. Ms. Sandberg might see this as downshifting before starting. I see it as normal for someone who seeks time for friends, family, creativity and contemplation. Doubtless, there are other women like me: those who aspire to be teachers, artists, botanists, therapists, among others. Are they all guilty of self-sabotage or downshifting?

Ms. Sandberg's analysis of women and workplace issues shifts much of the burden onto women themselves. Thus, inspiring that vague guilty feeling. Those women who don’t push forward against the glass ceiling become part of the problem and those who do push forward, but fail, appear to have not tried hard enough.

Ms. Sandberg is an amazing, accomplished individual. I hope many women and girls benefit from her  "You can do it!" message. I feel happy to live in a time and place where she, and women like her, can succeed so visibly and vibrantly. Yet, her life cannot be for everybody. Some women might not want it; others might not be so lucky.


Penelope Trunk said...

I appreciate your list of jobs that do not meet the standards for "leaning in." I wonder what the media barrage would look like if everyone were telling women it's okay to slow down and not be so high achieving. I wonder who would be featured on 60 Minutes talking about their life...


Anonymous said...

I disagree that you and your audience are living a life that Sandberg would hate. She has stated again and again that she respects SAHMs and their work, and feels guilty about leaving her kids at home, just like every professional woman. And it's true that the corporate world is not for every woman, and corporate or government leadership is not for every woman. That's fine.

But what about those of us who do want to lead at the highest levels? Should we not get advice and tips from someone who has made it to the top? Should we feel pressure and guilt just because we want to have a family and a career? I am a medical student, and I might want a family one day. But for today, I am going to study as hard as I can and be the best doctor I can be. Do I have to feel bad about it because there are other women who don't want to work?

EHP said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective, Anonymous. I think you might have missed the final paragraph of my post where I discusss how glad I am to live in a time and place where Ms. Sandberg and women like her can suceed so wholly and I hope many women benefit from her advice.

I am only saying that she makes me feel guilty; I am not saying she is wrong. By shifting the burden of balancing high career aspirations with family onto women (not sharing it with culture, society) she can leave those of us who felt they needed to downshift or opt out feeling like they've failed personally, not that they might have been confronted with an untenable situation in terms of work-life balance. Thus the guilt. Such thoughts might be a little middle aged from your perspective.

Kate said...

EHP, I completely understand how you feel. I, however, chose a non-corporate career path that is predominately female (teaching), so bumping against any glass ceiling was not a part of my landscape. I work part-time and feel like I have a good balance of work/family/personal life but also wonder what my life would have been like had I gone into publishing/editing/writing. Have I lived up to my potential? It's something I ponder.

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