Get Out: Why I’m Exhausted With Sandberg’s “Lean In”

Getting Out: Why I'm Exhausted With "Lean In"This morning, I will say it: I am exhausted with all of the Lean In huffing and puffing. In my newsfeed this morning, I found this article on the Wall Street Journal. The book is authored by Facebook’s COO and as the article this morning states, the book’s premise is:

We have educated a generation of women well, but too few make it to the top rungs. That’s partly because of societal barriers and subtle biases remain, partly because of women’s behavior.

Interviews with Sandberg have yielded such quote gems as ““I want every little girl who [is told] they’re bossy to be told instead, ‘You have leadership skills.'” (60 Minutes).

And this morning, I am exhausted. Spent. And I’m going to run a few things out over the wires. Like ’em or agree with them? I don’t much care. What I do care about, however, is that it’s time for the conversation to shift away from gender and to lean towards talent. I’m done with my vagina being a part of conversations it’s never pursued.

  1. There is a difference between being bossy and having leadership potential. Bossy people — of either gender — are not good leaders. Period. As one of my friends stated on Facebook — she would call her daughter out for being bossy and bitchy in a heartbeat. Plus 83 from me should I be blessed enough to ever have a daughter. Lord knows, my mom called me out plenty for being bossy and bitchy. (Thank you, mom.)
  2. I was completely unaware that someone had, at some time, established quotas on how many female CEOs there should be in the Fortune 500. Quit fucking saying there aren’t enough — your data set is broken. How about we focus on the best candidate, instead of chromosomes, to lead a company? And why is being a CEO of a Fortune-rated company the bar? I know plenty of female CEOs running their own ships. Running a publicly traded company isn’t everyone’s — male or female — version of success.
  3. Quit telling women that they’re making the wrong decisions when it comes to having children and having a career. Your womb ain’t mine, your children ain’t mine, and neither of us lives the other’s life. Unless their decision that you perceive as “wrong” fucks up YOUR life and those YOU love in some way, how about you shut the hell up and use your magical version of Google Maps to plot your own mystical course through life? Life isn’t a board game filled with blue and pink colored pegs that move around a car by the roll of the dice. Quit pretending it is.

If you’re wondering what inspired this rant, it’s:

  • lack of sleep
  • an inability to look at my vagina and view it as a reason that I’m doing something “incorrectly” in my life
  • the exhaustion with some sort of subtext that we’re all subject to The Good Old Boys Club
  • and the belief that I’m somehow not reaching my potential as a human being because I’m not allowing myself to be successful.

I’ll never discount the women who have come before me and blazed paths in much need of blazing. But don’t ever discount my life, my achievements, and what I consider to be “success” because I haven’t ticked off a to-do on a list I never authored.

I yearn for a family — that’s never been a secret with my readers. I have plenty of girlfriends who never want children. Neither choice — to parent or not — detracts from our respective professional potentials. It all has to do with whose definition of success we’re abiding. Sheryl’s definition of success certainly isn’t mine and I don’t delude myself into thinking mine is anywhere near hers.

But each day, I wake up to life I love, filled with people I love. That — to me — is success. It has no gender bias, it requires no bestselling book. It simply requires that I am willing to face tough decisions and make unpopular decisions day after bloody day. That is work I am willing to do.

Let me tell you what success has looked like for me at various points in my life:

  • Taking a shower anytime during the 6 months after the man I love died.
  • Spending 24 hours with my father.
  • Seeing my parents in the same room after 17 years.
  • Realizing that my sister was happy.
  • Getting anything done the day after my dog had raging diarrhea at 3AM, which meant I was up cleaning a sick dog and a very, very messy apartment when I’d only gone to sleep 3 hours prior.
  • Narrowly missing 6 accidents and making it home alive while driving through a blizzard and snowpacked roads in a Mini Cooper.
  • Seeing money in my bank account.
  • Getting through the day.

So if your version of success is different and you choose to judge mine based on the chromosomes I was handed and how I’ve used my ovaries, uterus, and a sperm donation — believe what you will and go fuck yourself.  I’ll be over here, making things happen.

…in the life I love, helping people become the next better version of themselves.

…for the people I love, who are my eternal front stabbers and the one who help me grow.

…and doing what I love, which is my daily stepping stone to becoming the next better version of myself.

Becoming better and honoring myself and those I love — I can’t think of a more noble pursuit. Maybe Sandberg lives her version of that life every day. I’ll never know.

But lady — don’t you dare think you’ve got the right to say I haven’t done amazing things in my 40 years. The fact that I’m alive today, at 40, typing this?

Huge. Fucking. Success.

PS: This is full admission that I have not read the book. And frankly, nor will I. I’m over that chatter and reporting on the book and how it’s for “all women”. To hell with that.

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109 replies
  1. AmeliaMorrisonHipps
    AmeliaMorrisonHipps says:

    And why should you speaking truth piss off a lot a women? I don’t get that, unless they believe themselves to be victims by virtue of their gender, and if that’s the case, they need therapy and a good bitch slap, which you just provided for them free of charge.
    Rock on, Erika! Keep telling the truth!

  2. staceyigraham
    staceyigraham says:

    Oh thank fucking god, I’ve been yelling this since the book came out. 
    I am done. I’m done with hearing about Mommy Wars that people trot out when there’s nothing better to bitch about, I’m tired of defending my choice to leave a career I half-hated to raise my kids which I only quarter-hate, I’m done with people making an issue about their definition of success. Want to lean in? Fabulous, but you’re blocking my first grader’s view of Go Diego Go and

  3. sydneyrb
    sydneyrb says:

    I told my husband the other day that I want Sandberg to lean in so I can punch her in the mouth.  I work my ass off and I’m pretty darn proud of my “successes”.

  4. ironscribe
    ironscribe says:

    Beautiful. I particularly loved your point about being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company isn’t everyone’s version of success. Would it be enough to say that more women lead Fortune companies so now gender equality has reached some magical new level? Of course not. Besides, like you said everyone’s path is different so one person’s achievements they proudly display on a mantle might mean nothing to the next person. Great post.

  5. Oh_Katie
    Oh_Katie says:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head by saying that “success” isn’t necessarily being at the helm of a Fortune 500 company. I’m in awe of women like Sheryl and their ability to to navigate to the top ranks at such places, but as a human being, my primary goal right now is finding a way to live my life that doesn’t make my career the end-all be-all of my existence. We are going to be dead one day – I’d like to live a little bit before I get there, and I’m sure many others would too. I’m a hard worker at a pretty typical office job, and I’m currently looking for those little successes such as you describe in my every day existence – because that’s how I bring meaning to my life .As opposed to “I’m just showing up to a cubicle every day for now and I will find the meaning of all this when I become president of the company, or I will feel like a great big failure if I’m not because I didn’t lean in enough.” I agree that bossy people do not make good bosses, but when I was a little girl I was VERY bossy, although I think I was taught how to channel that characteristic into a more constructive tenacious attitude toward work and life that benefits me to this very day.

  6. SueReddel
    SueReddel says:

    I think you’re wrong in your premise Erika. I think you will get MORE women readers with this article and your view point. Kudos to you for having the courage to publish your thoughts. It’s up to every individual man or woman to determine their own personal and professional success. If we all spent more time pursuing our dreams and goals and less worrying about what other people thought about us we’d all be in a lot better place.  Love your writing Erika.

  7. KillianMIck
    KillianMIck says:

    I can not thank you enough for this. I am so fucking tired of people patting me on the head because I had 3 kids before my 24th birthday, and now, at 41, “only” have 10 years in with the state. Hell, I wish I didn’t have that many years, but health insurance for 5 people, including 3 with health conditions is damn expensive.
    But ya know what? I’m going to shamelessly brag about one of my greatest successes. My husband and I both came from abusive, alcoholic homes. I was molested as a kid. We have three kids, and we broke all of the cycles. We raised amazing , curious, intelligent, conscientious, funny people without physical discipline. (Yes, they had structure and discipline and consequences, but we didn’t need to hit them for any of that.) None of us has alcoholic tendencies. We are all well educated, well spoken people who help other people and contribute to society.  Now, the kids do jokingly accuse me of needing too much variety in that I have one kid who’s gay, one who’s bi, and one who’s straight, but hey, spice of life, right?  =)
    I’m tired of being measured by someone else’s ruler. Fuck that. I am a success in my life, and I’m happy there.

  8. Tartydiva
    Tartydiva says:

    EXACTLY. The idea that we should all be CEOs is ridiculous. There isn’t ROOM for everyone at the top, for one thing.  And for a second thing, not everyone *wants* that.  
    Fifthly, why has every national conversation come back around to reproduction???

    • purplewitch
      purplewitch says:

      Tartydiva  not to mention all the government control that the religious right wants to put over our reproductive choices. IMHO, It really is a war on women being successful.

  9. joetaylorjr
    joetaylorjr says:

    On a tangent: 
    You know what I love about reading a blog that’s followed by so many writers? Thoughtful, well written comments.

  10. ShannVanderLeek
    ShannVanderLeek says:

    Great post. Success can’t be defined in a broad sweeping statement based on gender and ladder status. We get to decide what succes looks like. I once loved earning six-figures in the corporate world until I realized that I was selling my soul for a paycheck. People thought I was nuts to leave.  I know the decision to move on saved my life. To each her own. I love your blog!

  11. davastewart
    davastewart says:

    I’ve got seriously mixed feelings about all of this, and probably lots of other people do, too. While I wish that I had your certainty and could pick a place to stand firm, I’m wishy washy. I have zero desire to be the C-anything of a Fortune 500 company. And, like you, I’m sick to death of people (of both genders) saying what “successful” is for other people. Yet, I DO think that there are still lots of places where the good ole boy network is alive and well and preventing some women from doing what they need/want to do. 
    None of this is to say I don’t appreciate your point of view. Blaming society for your inability to reach your goals skates dangerously close to being a whining crybaby with a list of demands – and that’s not the kind of person anyone wants in charge of anything.

    • Erika Napoletano
      Erika Napoletano says:

      davastewart And I concur. I’m not saying the good old boy network doesn’t exist — I’m saying that don’t whine about it. Create your own. And I always love seeing you around these parts, Dava 🙂

  12. Dangermond
    Dangermond says:

    I wrote about this the other day – – because it all was summed up in a fortune cookie for me “A Woman Who Tries To Equal Man Lacks Ambition.” Nuf said. Plus – I hope you get the family you deserve – I was 50 when I met my son and I knew why it took me so long after I locked onto his eyes.

  13. thinkbannedthoughts
    thinkbannedthoughts says:

    I agree, as a business owner who doesn’t want her business to become
    or even approach Fortune 500 status, success means different things to
    different people and as a woman, I am tired of being told that I’m doing
    it wrong. Between the “Are you mom enough” crap to “Are you corporate
    enough” I just want to stand on my soap box and scream that the only
    thing I need to be is “Me” enough. And that I am.Thanks for reminding us that success is individual and to stop listening to the “My way is the best/only way” talking heads.

  14. CassieWitt
    CassieWitt says:

    Love, love, love what you wrote. “it’s time for the conversation to shift away from gender and to lean towards talent.”
    This is why I turned down an offer to guest blog for a blog that focuses on my view of being a “woman” in my industry. Screw that! I am a professional in my industry first. Does having a vagina make it harder to close deals (especially when dealing with a man)? Maybe. But the more you think that, the more true it becomes. And I refuse to let that be a reality.
    Thank you for once again writing something so pointed and for being fearless at it. 🙂

  15. CindiFoothold
    CindiFoothold says:

    Here here. From my seat – which is mine of my choosing of my making (failing or successing at any given moment) – Her success is her definition, yours yours, mine mine. My day is at my discretion and that’s how i will forever craft each day I meet.
    What I hope to leave this world is proof that “Your” assumptions about me don’t impact how far I can go. So – I choose to make  companies that will not show up on some index anywhere. They do employ people – support families – and those people live freely in their lives too.
    I love what you write Erika – how bold you are and I admire you giving us so much of you – that book…(maybe titled “Because. Fuck You.) is one I’m hoping you’ll write one day.

  16. karscott
    karscott says:

    Yes, this. All of it. Thank you, thank you! How does anyone get to tell us who to be or how to get there?
    I stopped out, had kids, and now I work for people far younger than I am. That doesn’t make me “less” of anything. I thought that was the whole point of the women’s movement? I thought what they were telling me, way back in the 70’s, was that I had a choice. I made my choice, and I’m happy I had the opportunity. Could I be someplace different in my career? Sure, with focus, different goals, hard work and much different choices. But, uh..I’m doing this my way, because it’s-ya know- my life.

  17. uemike
    uemike says:

    I think it’s important to point out that much of this comes from the perception that a woman who makes it this far – whether it’s in business or whatever arena we’re discussing – is that they’ve somehow overachieved.  Remember all the attention Marissa Mayer got when she became the CEO of Yahoo!?  Would this story really have been all that had they hired a man?
    It’s true that there are relatively few top level positions, but the premise that they need to be filled by men is fading.  Sooner or later, it will be hardly noticeable.

  18. skyddsdrake
    skyddsdrake says:

    Thank you.  On so many levels, in so many ways, thank you.  I’m sorry this isn’t more articulate, or that I can’t point out a particular part of this that I specifically needed to hear.  I think I needed it all.  So, just…thank you.

  19. Char Abbott
    Char Abbott says:

    2) Don’t curtail your career aspirations in anticipation of having children.   I made chocolate chip cookies this morning and did a quick mop on my floor to clean up the kool aid spills. I am told I make the best kool aid but actually I think thats based on quantity not quality! This was before setting at my desk at home this morning to work on my kick ass business I love and adore and created and is mine! Although I am truly blessed to be so successful, I wrote last summer that my dream was to fill my house full of foster boys. This morning I had 3 unofficial foster boys appreciating those cookies! A dream come true! I’ve sat at the board table and gladly gave that up years ago to pursue my own dreams on my own time! TYG!

  20. helenawd
    helenawd says:

    You OBVIOUSLY haven’t read the book because your critique is way off base. You come across as credible as a movie critic that hasn’t see the movie, but wrote an opinion anyway. Open your mind and read the book. Sheryl speaks ADMIRABLY about women who aren’t doing paid work. She NEVER criticized you nor said that you “haven’t done amazing things” – why you do think you have the right to criticize her? Thou protest too much.

    • bulldawgmama
      bulldawgmama says:

      helenawdSheryl’s comprehensive media tour (60 mins, NPR, Oprah, etc.) offers
      insight into the premise of the book and her thoughts about women
      working. This over-exposure opens her to criticism regardless of whether
      one reads her book. Unless she’s been off message in all of those
      interviews, we know what her book is about and her opinions about women
      in the workplace.

      • helenawd
        helenawd says:

        bulldawgmama You obviously haven’t read the book either. All of that coverage is filtered by the editors for the best sound bytes.  She does NOT only focus on married, woking mothers. She does NOT say that women have the tools to solve sexism themselves. If you really want to know what she said, read the book. Open your mind and don’t slam someone without knowing what you’re talking about. 

  21. bulldawgmama
    bulldawgmama says:

    Thanks for this solid post. I’m over the “Lean In” hype for many of the
    precise arguments that you make. I’m also over it because Sandberg
    publishes a book about feminism in 2013 and focuses only on married,
    working mothers. She doesn’t include lesbian, single, women who have
    chosen to not have a family, etc. Very narrow view of the world. Also,
    she seems to want to tell a story that if women have a problem with
    sexism in the workplace, they have the tools to solve it themselves.
    Just work harder and sit at the table and everything will work out.

  22. Walker Thornton
    Walker Thornton says:

    You haven’t lost this female reader. I agree with what you have to say… and, at age 58 I’ve run up against the gender crap most of my life. Starting with my mother pushing the marriage/beauty point to people making assumptions based on my gender and now my age. In reality we still have gender inequities but I’m not sure that continuing to belabor the point in the way Sandburg does is helping.   
    I like your approach, the understanding that each of us sets our own goals and aspirations, not as women or men, but as individuals. Raising a child may be the most powerful thing one woman wants to do, being President for another. It’s all equally important.

  23. rubyrebellion
    rubyrebellion says:

    Critiquing a book without having read it is like writing a food review for a dish you’ve never tasted. It’s based on what you imagine the thing to be rather than the thing itself.

      • rubyrebellion
        rubyrebellion says:

        SophieLatulippeOuellet She is critiquing an entire movement that is based on a book. Obviously Sheryl’s interviews are soundbites that are coached to get people to read the book. Alas, in our society we now can extrapolate based on soundbites and still have a valid opinion.  Thus is the nature of blogging. It’s sad, actually. No one has the desire or attention span to deconstruct “Lean In” based on the central themes . . . which are contained in the book.

        • SophieLatulippeOuellet
          SophieLatulippeOuellet says:

          rubyrebellion In any case, if people like Erika and me are turned off by the interviews, someone has made a lousy job at organizing her book tour. Maybe she should fire her agent????

  24. CourtRJ
    CourtRJ says:

    First of all, Erika, I am a huge fan of yours. I admire what you are doing in the world and have found your advice SUPER inspirational. 
    I must confess that I’m feeling a bit defensive of miss Sandberg. I’m confused about why we’re attacking Sheryl for telling women what to do with their lives, because I had the opposite impression from her speech for the Levo league (which I watched this morning). 
    In her speech, she makes a point to say that it’s not about being a CEO. It’s about doing that thing that you want to do and not holding yourself back because of a lack of confidence. You don’t have to want to be a CEO. Her example is being a CEO because that’s her path. She makes a point to encourage the audience to envision their own dream.
    Sheryl talks about how she started working for younger people and everyone else told her she was crazy. She talks about not saying “no” to your profession because you’re afraid that in 10 years you’ll want kids and then what will you do? She talks about finding your passion and moving horizontally rather than vertically up the ladder if it’s going to help you to do what you do best in the world.
    Perhaps we got different impressions from Sheryl’s work, but I am happy to support a woman who is inspiring others in being more confident and going after what they want most in life despite the fear. I’m in support of Sheryl, you, and all the other women and men in the world!
    Also, I hope that everyone reading this article and commenting will take the time to read the book for themselves before jumping to negative, inflamed opinions of what Sheryl Sandberg stands for. (Though, if that’s what you think after you read, go for it!)
    Lots of love.

    • jlran77
      jlran77 says:

      CourtRJ That was my take on it as well. I haven’t read the book, I just started a Lean In Circle because what I read over there was find a small group (6-8 people) who are on the same/similar trajectory as you (whatever that trajectory may be) and support and encourage each other to get there. I definitely understood it to mean define what success means for you and go for it. I also felt it was encouraging women to take the societal pressures out of the equation by creating their own society. I guess it’s everyone’s interpretation.

  25. SophieLatulippeOuellet
    SophieLatulippeOuellet says:

    Oh my God! I feel so relieved reading your article. I haven’t read her book either but I saw her interview on Oprah. I have to admit that I was feeling a bit of a failure… I wonder if her perspective is not something like “more women should play the men’s game” whereas people like us are like “no, let’s invent a new game, that is better and more fun instead”…. Thanks Erika…

  26. tracibrowne
    tracibrowne says:

    Thank you! Seriously…words cannot express how thankful I am you were able to articulate this better than I ever could.

  27. MadgeMadigan
    MadgeMadigan says:

    Thank you Jaysus! As a 47 year old woman who took time out about 15 years ago to have kids, I say fuck you to all the people that told me “Oh don’t stay at home, you’ll screw up your career”.  But you know what?  They were right.  I fought like a bitch just to get receptionist jobs when I had a degree in Broadcasting.  Then my ex took off and I had to raise all 3 kids alone, my goal was to get the most flexible job not the most lucrative one.  Again more people telling me I’m an idiot.
    But again, you know what?  I have a son who’s a Freshman at NYU now, and 2 daughters at a top private HS who are A students and looking at great colleges.  So fuck you… I’d rather raise my offspring right than worry if I’ll round out the quota of CEOs.  Oh but BTW, can you all buy my upcoming book so I can keep those kids in college?  Thanks.  🙂

  28. kimdoyal
    kimdoyal says:

    Hi Erika,
    I haven’t read the book either and probably won’t, simply because I have plenty of other books to read that are a higher priority for me.
    What struck me the most about this post is what success has looked like for you at various points in your life. I’ve only seen a little bit of media surrounding this book but it’s all pushing the out-dated, ill advised view of what success is in our culture (and the tired gender argument).
    This made me think of a recent situation I experienced when I went to my dentist (there is a point, promise). My dentist is around my age (42) and we were talking about our kids.  My daughter is 16, same age as her son. We were chatting about college, etc. and I was sharing the heavy school load my daughter took this year (AP classes, etc.). and then stated that she wanted to go to the Culinary Academy in San Francisco after high school (she works PT at a local bakery and absolutely LOVES it).
    My dentist’s response? “Oh, she doesn’t want to just do that with her grades/academics…”
    WTF? The truth is it didn’t bother me at all, I just felt sorry for her son. 
    I don’t care WHAT my kids want to do as long as they follow their hearts and are good people. My 12 yr. old son is not into sports but he creates some of the most amazing movie props (mainly weapons.. haha) out of paper mache, PVC pipe, paint and hot glue but he still feels pressure because he’s not an athlete. I will do whatever it takes to support them pursuing their dreams.
    And for what it’s worth Erika, you’ve made a huge impact in my life which certainly affects my kids lives.

  29. EricaSchreiber
    EricaSchreiber says:

    Kindergarten, Day 1
    Teacher: How do you want it to be? As in your life.
    Kids:  (answer. words optional – sounds, gestures, and movement encouraged)
     Great. Perfect. My job is to help you gain all the tools, resources and relationships you need to go and create it. Your job is to create it. Let’s start, say, right now.

  30. GraceKadzere
    GraceKadzere says:

    Erika, what a good piece! I am 28 heading for 29 and here in South Africa, it’s the same bullshit. I am tired of people detecting that what worked for them should work for other women. I am still to read Sandberg’s book and one great thing I can say so far is that at least as Americans you have a lot of female role models to look up to. That being said, I think the world has forgotten the meaning of success and that it means different things to different people. I am a CEO of my start – up which turned 2 on the 1st of April; I pay myself way less than a lot of people younger than me earn,  who are obviously employed by bigger agencies but that doesn’t worry me because success means a completely different thing to me. Am just glad that there are women out there who are sick and tired of society dictating to us how we should be or live our lives. We are not all meant to have kids or be able to cook good meals – some of us are just more comfortable with work, flexibility and travel but because society has turned morals into values, the lines have been blurred so badly that all we live with is guilt because our internal values are different from what society has named the true expectations or morals of how one is supposed to live. Rock on Erika!

  31. Cyclo
    Cyclo says:

    Interesting. I disagree with a lot of the argument saying chromosomes don’t have anything to do with success. Male privilege has all but guaranteed it is more difficult for women to succeed in positions of power. And technically, no, talent has nothing to do with xx or xy, but how we recognize and REWARD talent is.
    As for the bossy thing–it’s completely a gendered issue. Men who act bossy are not told they’re bossy. In fact, the term bossy is almost exclusively used for women and girls. Sandberg’s point is that little girls are told to be passive and overly polite. While I think that we should encourage boys to be more polite, too many little girls are told from the time they are tiny that their needs should come last. Boys get the opposite lesson.
    As a half-time single mother of a daughter, I see every single day the signals my daughter gets from the world that encourage her to be more passive, to be less aggressive, and to not speak her mind. More and more women are becoming breadwinners, and yet our salaries are still less than men’s overall. That fact has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with chromosomes.
    There are many ways to live a fulfilled life and many ways to live a life that we hate. But we should have the freedom to explore what that means, and not be discouraged, from the time we’re born, to aggressively pursue difficult careers that also pay well. Sandberg wasn’t writing for everyone, and I don’t think she claimed to be. If we want to dismantle Wall Street, that’s another topic altogether. And I’m all for that.

    • GraceKadzere
      GraceKadzere says:

      Cyclo I don’t think that Erika is disagreeing with the fact that men generally and I say generally because I am generalizing get preferential treatment in terms of salaries or being CEOs because luckily they never have to deal with maternity leave, etc. If I am correct her point is that somehow as women we are expected to compete to be in the top positions that men hold to actually be looked and being defined by society as having finally made it, and that’s absolute nonsense because being a CEO is not a very woman’s definition of success. Society needs to put so much emphasis on what qualifies a vagina to be called a success. I am from Africa where the people that push for change to reduce abuse and fight poverty are mostly women, not men and yet those women are happy and count themselves to be successful.

      • Cyclo
        Cyclo says:

        GraceKadzere I would say that the issue isn’t that society is telling women what to do with their lives, but that it’s telling everyone what to do with their lives. Half of society (or more) wants women to stay home and be good mothers. Sandberg wants women to “lean in.” I agree with you and Erika that success can be defined in many different ways, but we should abolish the gendered structures that prevent us from achieving success. Men should be able to stay home with their children. That should be success. Women should be able to start revolutions. We should all feel empowered to reach for the lives that we want, even if they’re not in line with tradition. But to say that Sandberg is wrong in encouraging women who want to be business leaders to take a different approach is, once again, telling women what to do and what not to do. I say we should lean in to whatever it is that we want to achieve, whether it’s in our careers, with our families, in social justice issues, or wherever. And maybe Sandberg’s advice can be applied to that as well.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
      Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes says:

      Cyclo I hate the term male privilege because it suggests that all men automatically benefit from things that others don’t.
      Is that the same privilege that some women use to glare at me when I take my kids to the park because they wonder why a “man” would be in a place with kids. Is it the same privilege that makes some mothers glare at me when I walk into a public restroom after their sons.
      Privilege is a loaded term.

  32. doughnut_girl
    doughnut_girl says:

    Erika, so happy you spoke up about this!!  I recently read an article ( with similar ideas, that speaks not just to Lean In, but to books the author labels as “career porn” that try to give women the recipe for their version of perceived success- Which, as you said, is exhausting and I am over it Oh_Katie said it perfectly, “…my primary goal right now is finding a way to live my life that doesn’t make my career the end-all be-all of my existence. We are going to be dead one day – I’d like to live a little bit before I get there…” I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for this today!

  33. imadime
    imadime says:

    i’ve also completely tired of the discussion, though for very different reasons.  that said, i don’t think that sandberg’s (whose perspective i believe is myopic at best) intention was to say that every woman should want those things, but that, for those who do…blah, blah, blah, whatever she thinks about the barriers that stand in their way.
    i hear you and agree 100% that we should all pursue our own paths and define what our own successes look like, and that none of us should be made to feel our choices are any less legitimate or laudable. BUT i don’t think we can discount that for women who choose that big, corporate path, their vaginas do sometimes dictate how the majority men in charge treat them, whether intentionally or otherwise.
    (p.s. – too many parents aren’t willing to tell their kids their being bossy/whiny/assholes these days and the result is they send them out into the world for the rest of us to deal with…i have no problem telling a grow-up that she’s being a bossy bitch!)

      • Erika Napoletano
        Erika Napoletano says:

        ShrutiSaran imadime Dear god, THAT is some nitpicking right there. Because frankly, we don’t call men “bossy”. We call them big swinging dicks, Napoleons, or assholes.
        But to be fair, I’m going to start calling men bossy. And tell Tina Fey she needs to change the title of her book.

      • imadime
        imadime says:

        ShrutiSaran imadime i referenced a bossy woman because my scenario was concocted in direct response to the point erika made in her original post about her mom calling her out on being bossy!  trust … i have no problem calling a bossy bastard/asshole/douchebag bossy either!

  34. BelkinB
    BelkinB says:

    Agreed. Well said. I questioned that “bossy” quote the minute I first read it. But what I like is that you take a distanced view of her advice rather than joining the rest of the sheeple who just suck it up without reflecting on the advice vis-a-vis their lives and experience. Down with the echo chamber. Up with authentic thought and words. Good stuff, E.

  35. ketteljm
    ketteljm says:

    I LOVE you Erika, and I hear your frustration. But I have to disagree. I think the conversation on gender needs to break wide open. Like crazy, crazy wide open. I love, love, love that we (men & women) don’t all agree. That’s a huge part of what she is saying in her book. No one woman should ever be expected to carry the voice of all women. But it’s still happening. All the time. (Backlash against Marissa Mayer is a great example.) I think you might actually like the book b/c it’s not about doing things wrong or that we all need to be CEOs. Not. At. All. There has been this huge movement to bash it by people who haven’t read it. As an author myself, I feel that pain too. But all this said, you aren’t really her audience. Because, once again, not all women have to speak for each other, to each other.

    • Erika Napoletano
      Erika Napoletano says:

      ketteljm And that’s the best part — I’m really not her audience. So just maybe my opinion means dill to her and those who love the buzz that surrounds the Lean In conversations 🙂

  36. ECZA
    ECZA says:

    I’m sorry, but if you haven’t read the book, I just wonder how you can challenge what you think “her viewpoint” is. You literally haven’t read it? Just my two cents, but some of the things you said in here, ideas which you ascribed to sheryl sandberg–they’re actually not things she believes or says at all. Like…at all.   It sounds to me like what your problem is with is with the *discussion* around the book–which is fine–but again, a lot of the things you think Sheryl Sandberg “doesn’t support”–“Quit telling women that they’re making the wrong decisions when it comes to having children and having a career, for example”– lord almighty, you really missed the boat there. She does not say that, even remotely, she says in fact the complete opposite.  Anywho, I hope you do read it, though  I suspect your mind is already made up–wish you did that after hearing her side of things.

    • Erika Napoletano
      Erika Napoletano says:

      ECZA I can certainly see (and appreciate) your position. First, I didn’t ascribe thoughts to Sandberg. Perhaps its my sleep-deprived state this week, but this post was inspired by yet another media blurbity-blurb about what’s being extrapolated from the book and its main points. I’m pretty sure I said that in the opening paragraphs, but own that if you saw a lack of clarity, the onus is on me. But I didn’t miss a boat — I’m simply choosing not to board one where I’m not game to dive into yet more buzz. We all have our own boats. Thanks for stepping aboard mine for a moment today.

  37. bennettleigh
    bennettleigh says:

    Sandberg’s book (which you did not read) discusses the, where Harvard students were asked to rate their impressions of a successful entrepreneur. When the name was changed to Howard, students reacted favorably to the entrepreneur’s accomplishments, but when it was Heidi, they disliked her “aggressive personality.” Sandberg also cites other studies that both men and women are harsher toward successful women. I attribute a lot of the Sandberg backlash to this phenomenon — she is not “discounting your life” by talking about her own career path. Sandberg in NO WAY suggests that all women should be Fortune 500 CEOs or that is the only way to be considered “successful” — your post misses the entire point of her book, which is to consider WHY there aren’t more female leaders and what can both women and men can do about it. Sadly, society is not “focusing on the best candidate” — you are ignoring centuries of patriarchal thinking. Of course, not every woman (or man) wants to run a Fortune 500 company or be a leader, and that’s fine, and Sandberg would agree that’s GREAT, but a lot of women DO (and maybe that’s why they read the book).

    • Erika Napoletano
      Erika Napoletano says:

      bennettleigh Perhaps the reason my post misses the point of the book is that it’s not a book review? Just a thought. As I stated to another guest who was good enough to stop by, I cited clearly that this post is about the chatter surrounding Lean In. I applaud your dedication to whatever message Sandberg is sharing, though. Every brand needs its (his…her) champions. And I’m glad you decided to stop by today and share your insights.

      • bennettleigh
        bennettleigh says:

        Erika Napoletano Thank you for your response. I understand that you did not write a book review, but you put the book title in your headline and ascribed a point of view to Sandberg that is inaccurate — even addressing her directly throughout your post. For example: “But lady —”, etc. I am not championing a “brand” as much as I am confused by the personal and negative response to an overwhelmingly positive book. Even if Sandberg’s success makes people feel badly about their own lives in comparison (something I have seen admitted in this comments section and elsewhere), the pushback to women seen as “successful” or “threatening” is incredibly destructive to both institutions and society as a whole. That pushback removes the focus from “talent,” which we both whole-heartedly agree should be valued. I support individual women do not want to work at the highest levels of their field, but having talented women represented at those levels will help everyone. It’s not about quotas (and Sandberg never said it was). A successful woman expressing the truth that women are underrepresented    as leaders in this country is not “discounting” anyone’s life, but the opposite.

  38. mikelking
    mikelking says:

    I agree that we should hire the best fit for the job, and get over it. This is a fantastic post! 

    There is no way in hell that bossy = leadership of any sort. Leaders are not bossy managers are.

  39. ShrutiSaran
    ShrutiSaran says:

    A huge part Sandberg’s point is that the best person for the job doesn’t always get the job, especially if they’re a woman, that men are promoted based on potential whereas women are promoted based on past accomplishment, and this despite woman being comparably educated. She also notes that everyone’s definition of success is different, but this doesn’t account for the disparity between men and women taking on leadership roles. It seems like the vast majority of people who post a negative review of this book or the ideas therein haven’t read the book, which detracts from your rhetoric, as well as everyone else who flamed this book without reading it. You’re only contributing the misinformation being spewed about this book from both the pro and anti-lean in sides.

    • Erika Napoletano
      Erika Napoletano says:

      ShrutiSaran First, thanks for stopping by today. I’m not flaming the book — I said at the beginning of the post that I was fed up with the chatter. The quotes. And could I have framed the post better, citing perhaps that maybe the problem is the media? Certainly. My sleep-deprived, slightly annoyed self acquiesces. As someone who has never experienced being held back from anything on account of my gender, I’m exhausted with the same arguments surfacing every few years. I’m not concerned with the gender of the people at whatever table is in the conversation. I’m concerned with shifting the focus towards talent — which the media isn’t doing. Perhaps that helps clarify? Perhaps not.

      • ShrutiSaran
        ShrutiSaran says:

        Erika Napoletano ShrutiSaranI get what you’re saying, and the media has done a terrible job promoting/discrediting this book accurately, I just feel like you’re contributing to the buzz and “chatter” (that you find annoying) by adding yet another opinion to the growing number of people on the web who think they understand what this book is about without reading it, and then misquoting it along the way. And, whether you meant to convey your opinion on the book itself or not, this post definitely isn’t positive coverage for Lean In.  I’m just saying, it’s hard to convincingly highlight other annoying or uninformed opinions when yours is equally uninformed — because you haven’t read the book. I also don’t get all the WOMEN attacking this book without having read it. It seems catty and defensive, frankly. They’re all like, “Sure, YOU can be an executive at a large company, you can afford baby sitters and nanny!” or “I like having time for my family and being a home maker thank you very much!” That’s when I know they haven’t read the book….because she addresses those reactions in, like, the first two pages.  But I agree with the essence of your post. Everybody should have their own definition of success, everybody’s definition will be different, etc. It’s just that, I think Sheryl Sandberg would agree too!

        • Erika Napoletano
          Erika Napoletano says:

          ShrutiSaran Again, the post isn’t about the book. It’s about the hype. So tell me this: do I have to sit in a room with Justin Bieber blasting for hours to know that I don’t care for his music? Can I hear one song by a band and like that song and not the band as a whole? 
          I’m just curious, as apparently I have to sit down and read a book to decide that I don’t like the hype surrounding it. I’m under no obligation to offer positive coverage for a book — but what I can do is say what I feel (just as you have here, and eloquently). And I’ll accept fully that there are those who don’t and will never agree. I’m not here to convince or convert. Maybe you are.
          Appreciate you joining the conversation.

        • ECZA
          ECZA says:

          Erika Napoletano ShrutiSaran With all due respect, if you critiqued or said you didn’t like Justin Bieber’s music by saying it is the worst country music you’d ever heard, I’d say–well, it’s NOT country music, she should probably listen to it before she categorizes it as “bad country music”.  I think that’s similar to what you did with this book. 
          You say it’s not about the book, but the title of the post is “Why I’m exhausted with Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.”” That’s pretty clear? You say it’s not directed at her, well who is the “lady” when you say ” lady — don’t you dare think you’ve got the right to say I haven’t done amazing things in my 40 years.” I honestly am confused as to who that would be other than her.
          You seem like a strong, independent woman who is confident in her choices and how you categorize success–Sheryl Sandberg would love that about you, support you and appreciate where you’re coming from. I’m sorry you don’t see it that way. Thanks for your time, and responses.

  40. BarefootEssence
    BarefootEssence says:

    Thank you for putting this into words. When I first heard her book and saw an interview, I caught the bit about ‘more women CEOs’…tell me exactly WHY I should want to be CEO of a large corporation? That is her definition of success, some women may have the same definition of success, but it certainly is not mine. 
    Being loyal to a company is your definition of success? Her job at Facebook could end at the decision of one person – doesn’t sound like to success to me.

    • bennettleigh
      bennettleigh says:

      BarefootEssence Sandberg’s dedication for more women CEOS does not exclude her also supporting women who do not want to take that path. Those viewpoints are not mutually exclusive.

      • ECZA
        ECZA says:

        bennettleigh BarefootEssence agreed, Bennettleigh. Sandberg’s point (and she’s crystal clear on this in the book) is that we should work as a society to make sure that women can do whatever they want. If that is being a CEO, great, but she never says that is “better” than another path. Since that’s Sanberg’s experience, she talks about the particular challenges there. But she talks quite a bit about women who take a different road, and she speaks of it with great support and respect. I’m disappointed  how this post suggests she believes the opposite –particularly things like “But lady — don’t you dare think you’ve got the right to say I haven’t done amazing things in my 40 years”. Sheryl Sandberg would AGREE you have done amazing things. She’s not judging you, she encourages women to support other women, whatever their path. Shame you didn’t read the book and find that out yourself.

        • Erika Napoletano
          Erika Napoletano says:

          ECZA bennettleigh BarefootEssence There’s no shame on anyone for not reading the book to find this point you’ve included. First, this isn’t a book review — it’s about the buzz around the book. Secondly, no one here is discounting Sheryl’s accomplishments or abilities. And I respect that you’re disappointed in my viewpoint. That’s perfectly okay. I do appreciate you stopping by for a read and sharing your thoughts.

  41. KateLeeLeibsle
    KateLeeLeibsle says:

    I LOVE YOU! This is everything I’ve been wanting to say, but because I CHOSE to be pregnant for the last 8 months and give birth to two amazing babies last week, I haven’t had time. I hope both my son and daughter will choose to pursue their life dreams based on their passions and not their genders and won’t be judged by anyone for those choices. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words so eloquently.

  42. FGH huntress
    FGH huntress says:

    Yep I love ya, I love ya for making me breathe a massive sigh of relief about being different everytime I read your blog, and yes I am different – no, I don’t think that means anyone else isn’t.  I don’t subscribe to any pre-conceived bullshit, I’ve done my own thing for richer or poorer (mostly the latter, due to my own bad feelings about not doing things I was ‘supposed’ to) my whole life and it’s only now Im officially wholeheartedly and happily rejecting all the crap and just getting my shit done.  I’m 35.  I’m kicking ass now, even if my bank account is yet to reflect it, I’m happy.  The reason is that I agree and live by everything you’ve written about in this post, easy peasy, huh? 🙂

  43. TobeyDeys
    TobeyDeys says:

    I’ve raised two kidlets into amazing, brave, loving, compassionate, brilliant adults who are blazing their paths (and who have the chutzpah and the solid support to be who THEY want to be. One has a penis, the other does not). I’ve failed brilliantly, won a few, redefined prosperity to fit MY sensibility and I love and am loved in this life beyond my capacity to express. Every year of my half a century in this life, I have known what ‘success’ really means.
    Darlin’, you rock. ~peace xox

  44. DickCarlson
    DickCarlson says:

    There is no amount of writing you could do that would convince me that “success” for anyone is having to look at Mark Zuckerberg every morning.  None.

  45. Erika Napoletano
    Erika Napoletano says:

    Just leaving a comment after a day full of meetings, thanking everyone for joining this conversation. I never cease to be amazed and inspired by the diversity of thought that comes through this community — thanks for making it a wonderful place and for keeping the trolling to zilch. Whether you agree or differ, you do it all with respect. Above anything, this makes me smile.

  46. docfargo
    docfargo says:

    I was raised by a single mother. That’s why I agree with Erika. It’s not bias, it’s experience and love.

  47. marence
    marence says:

    For nearly 20 years, I’ve had a sign I made above my desk with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s definition of success (here: I look at it every time I hear someone say “but you could have been…” – even if (especially if!) the voice is just inside my head. 
    There’s nothing wrong with the real message of Sandberg’s book, that women should be judged by the same criteria as men and that women still have to fight in many ways to get and hold that. The problem, as you have so realistically pointed out, is that the takeaway from interviews, reviews, and puff pieces, is that a woman must be a bitch in high heels to “succeed”. Two problems, really. One, that’s not the core message of the book, and two, that the definition of success id the same for all – get to the top.  
    Personally, if I find myself at the top, I’ll be wondering what I did wrong & how the hell to I climb down from the summit without breaking a leg or falling onto rocks. I’m happiest and most successful when I’m doing what I like, not when I’m playing corporate games. I got out of that life!

    • Dangermond
      Dangermond says:

      marence agree, I got out of the corporate life after two decades. I never wanted in, but I got caught in a maelstrom living in San Francisco far away from my home in New Orleans and I, who wanted nothing more than the life of a writer, the life of a mother, a friend, etc., dove into the whirling blades because, hell if I know why, just because it seemed to the thing to do, and it has taken a complete overhaul of my body and psyche to remove the taint, but free at last, free at last, thank god almighty I am free at last. I think my offense about Lean In is that everyone has it as a “must read” and I can think of so many more soul nourishing tomes than Sandberg’s that ought to be must reads.

  48. Kristen Hicks
    Kristen Hicks says:

    I have neither read the book, or the WSJ article, but throughout the first half of your post, up until I got to where you said it, this is exactly what I was thinking: “And why is being a CEO of a Fortune-rated company the bar?”
    I don’t imagine that there are a lot of social workers, teachers, nurses, writers, or graphic designers spending their days wishing they could be CEOs at a fortune 500 company. Frankly, I’d be much more likely to look up to and value people doing good work in any of the listed professions, and a good deal others, more than someone whose job is all about making more money for businesses and people that already have plenty.
    Different people have different values. Like most, I have a tendency to wish more people shared mine, but try to recognize the world is richer due to our differences.

  49. DebraLloydNGBT
    DebraLloydNGBT says:

    Erika your daughter will be one lucky, lucky girl! It’s about people applying their skills, knowledge and effort to produce results regardless of their gender. If I put my feet on the floor in the morning, I feel it’s the least I can do to follow up as best I possibly can on the effort it took to put them there.


    Ok, so all the talk around the book has bored me (in the comments) and what I want to add my voice to – is that I loved your personal definitions of success Erika.  They actually kinda sprung up on me (like my 14 year old who loves hiding in random corners to give me a ‘fright’) … because they are such common and human experiences.
    At one time my definition of success with 3 daughters under 5 was to have a shower by the time my husband got home. 
    I have 3 sisters and 2 brothers and when I see any of them ‘happy’ (as in they genuinely seem to be lit up), it adds to my joy. 
    … I could go on… I connected with all your experiences.  Flip – at one stage going to the toilet without someone busting in on me, was my triumph (honestly – when we moved from our boxed in, 1 toilet home into a 3 story home with 3 toilets and our children couldn’t find me .. I cried tears of joy).
    Anyway – here’s to all our successes (whether in the boardroom, toilet or whereever)!

  51. iSalesGirl
    iSalesGirl says:

    I’m tired of people thinking I’m a brand for women because I’m a woman – 40% of my audience is talented, lovely, and funny men. Thank God for ALL of my peeps.
    Sheryl’s message puts us all ten steps backwards. I agree 100% with your article, Erika. Keep the gender out of it. Get into action. Make a difference. Period. 
    Love ’em ALL UP! 
    The Irreverent Sales Girl

  52. SukeMahpeen
    SukeMahpeen says:

    Sandberg should admit that Jews usually hire other Jews.  She leaned in and showed Zuckerberg her cleavage!

  53. SukeMahpeen
    SukeMahpeen says:

    Once women get promoted they tend to hire other women.  I had a lesbian CEO that only promoted other lesbians.  People hire others like themselves.   Being Jewish helped Sandberg get her job from Zuckerberg.

  54. SukeMahpeen
    SukeMahpeen says:

    Sure, I bet she got her job because she is Jewish and has a decent rack.  Lean in and show Zuckerberg your boobs!

  55. AJ Larnelius
    AJ Larnelius says:

    Quit mixing up feeling sorry for youself and women’s career possibilities. I can with 100% honestly assure you that there are plenty of barriers for us women wanting to reach higher postions in our careers. If you don’t want that for yourself, it is absolutely fine – noone forces you! – but PLEASE stop now making it even worse for the rest of us! We have lots and lots of men against us – we women, too??!!
    Reemeber what Madeleine Albright said. I agree!

  56. HRH Jones
    HRH Jones says:

    The thing is, everyone’s idea of being successful isn’t necessarily being at the top of anything. And when you start buying into the whole “war on women” BS, you’ve already conceded that you’re incapable of ever achieving your own success because, as you put it, “we have lots and lots of men against us”. It’s not a war and it’s not just women who can’t rise up the corporate ladder. Lean in, you can smell the bullshit.

  57. SusannahBethMartin
    SusannahBethMartin says:

    marence Thank you for sharing that quote. I of course had read it before but what a great thing to have yourself read consistently. I found a pretty picture with it of a flower and that’s now my computer background. It will be perfect when I’m caught up playing corporate games! 🙂


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