Sheryl and Erin Mix it Up

Very few women (or men for that matter) reach the lofty business heights of the latest Mrs. Alphas in the headlines: COO Sheryl Sandberg and former CFO Erin Callan.

Sheryl, 43, has been on an extended book tour to encourage young women to lean in to their ambitions and speak up so their voices are heard and embrace success, while Erin, 47, has offered a cautionary tale about what leaning in can take away in an op-ed, “Is There Life After Work?” (She set aside starting a family while on Wall Street and is now deep into fertility treatment.)

Each has been ruffling feathers in her own unique way and together remind us that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

I’ve known plenty of men and women who have leaned in and not achieved all they set out to do. Inevitably, hard work and dedication only get you so far. Luck (good and bad) has a way of arbitrarily determining winners and losers.

Singular efforts — regardless of whether you’re doggedly climbing the corporate ladder or pursuing the dream of acting or throwing everything you’ve got and then some at starting a family — usually means you’re tunneling in to the exclusion of most all else.

Erin explains, “Inevitably, when I left my job, it devastated me. I couldn’t just rally and move on. I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was.”

You don’t have to live in a board room to become one dimensional. You could apply this same one-track thinking phenomenon to those pursuing motherhood or fertility treatment.

I’m all for setting goals and making my voice heard — leaning in as Sheryl advises. But I also believe it’s healthy to assess what’s working and what’s not, and to learn from failures as well as successes.

Ironically, in her recent essay Erin was echoing my own thoughts from a few years ago when she said: “Perhaps I needed what felt at the time like some of the worst experiences in my life to come to a place where I could be grateful for the life I had. I had to learn to begin to appreciate what was left.

Put another way, and with the help of some old proverbs, I would add: it’s not healthy to put all one’s eggs in one basket; to lose sight of the forest for the trees, nor to pursue success at any price. Sometimes the cost is too high.

What say you readers?

For more responses to Sheryl and Erin:

  • Maureen Dowd offers her take on Sheryl’s quest to be “The Pompom Girl for Feminism.”
  • Alexandra Chang and Kara Swisher parse the critics, respectively, in “Why You Should Lean In to Sheryl Sandberg’s New Book” and “Old Media Doesn’t Get New Media.”
  • Beth Greenfield on work-life balance, “Former CFO Regrets Not Having Children, Reignites the Work-Balance Debate.”
  • There were more choice observations coming from across the pond. The Telegraph’s Allison Pearson wrote the piece: “Women’s Have-it-All-Fantasy Often Spells Heartbreak.”

You can also read a Q&A with me and longtime blog friend, Lori Lavender Luz, about the writing of Silent Sorority here. It comes as we approach the four-year anniversary of Silent Sorority’s debut. Lori has her own book coming out this month, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption.

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9 thoughts on “Sheryl and Erin Mix it Up

  1. I read Erin Callan’s article & kind of forgot about it (in the wave of post-Sandberg-book coverage)… thanks for bringing it up again. There was a lot there I could relate to as well. And I like how you pointed out the parallels between climbing the corporate ladder & climbing Infertility Mountain. ;)

    1. After I typed in “Infertility Mountain” and hit post, it occurred to me that I’m right in the middle of reading a book about George Mallory & the first expeditions in the 1920s to attempt to climb Mount Everest (“Into the Silence” by Wade Davis). There are parallels to be drawn there too. Reaching the summit became a kind of obsession for him — sound familiar? — and he paid for it with his life (fortunately, fertility treatments are, for the most part, less risky than climbing Mount Everest — particularly back then, when nobody else had done it and the condidions were so primitive). As you said, sometimes the cost is too high — but it’s hard to realize until you take a step back & gain some perspective.

  2. I like what you say about learning from failures as well as successes.

    There was a time in my life when I was leaning in — to what others wanted of me. I am leaning in in a different way now.

    Thanks for these links — will be spending some time on them.

  3. Really interesting – I’ve spent far to long reading the articles you linked! The articles – some of them anyway – make me nervous because they provide fodder for the critics who will say “see, childless women are selfish, spending far too long trying to be career women when clearly what they really wanted was to be a mother” or “it’s easy for rich women to be a feminist.”

    Successful women are targets in ways that successful men are not. They are criticised by all sides – when they express feminist principles, they are lambasted because they “don’t know what it is to struggle.” I think the important thing here is that they are speaking out, reminding us that women are still struggling, and giving us food for thought.

    And I have to say I’ve always liked the phrase you’ve used – life is what happens when we’re making plans. You’re so right. I also have to add that I related to Erin Collins – when I resigned my job, both to pursue self-employment (AND focus on fertility), I did not know who I was either. That was a shock to me. I see other women – and even more men – in a similar position.

    I could have written screeds here … but I’m off to think a bit more!

    1. I hear you, Mali, Lori and Loribeth. I have lots of additional thoughts (still not fully processed) here, too. We’re all of the same generation, so it’s likely these stories resonate for us in a way that touches deeply. I’m curious if those under 40 share the same reactions.

  4. Here’s another perspective for you… Arianna Huffington on why we all (including men) need to learn to lean back:

    http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2013/03/11/arianna-huffington-sheryl-sandberg-to-lean-in-first-lean-back/

  5. Hmmm…I’m going to be 35 this year and what I’m going to share is my experience when I moved halfway across the world to Finland and left everything behind and started life all over again. I had a nice “career” back in Indo (a full-time translator working from home), but I was ready to leave that job anyway.

    When I moved to Sodankylä, I didn’t know too much Finnish yet and due to the fact that it’s a small village with many more elderly residents who don’t speak English, it was a rough start. During the months when I was unemployed (and without kids), being (only) a stay-at-home wife made me feel “less than” in many ways. I literally had to shut out all those external voices over and over and over again and embrace every single day without really knowing what kind of job I could get and what I wanted to do in Finland (and boy did I love planning WAY ahead of time prior to moving to Finland!).

    After learning more Finnish and afterwards being able to get a job (I wasn’t expecting to get a job, it was a surprise!), naturally those external voices subsided ‘coz I had found my answers (learning Finnish and then getting a job). Did that experience help me in facing infertility? Maybe in some ways, but infertility hit MUCH harder than the price I have had to pay by moving to Finland, esp. ‘coz we don’t end up with kids.

    I agree with what you wrote here: about assessing what’s working and what’s not. I find that not everybody understands the difference between surrendering (in order to be able to move on, leaving the past behind) vs giving up. In today’s world where I hear this loudly: “YOU CAN DO IT IF YOU JUST PERSEVERE!!!! ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN (even a miracle)!!!”, it gets “tougher” to feel “strong” by making the decision to leave the road that “doesn’t work for us” in order to move on.

    1. Oh, I must say that while I was unemployed (esp. before I could converse in Finnish with others), I was saved by blogging and my blogger friends. The isolation was killing me (I really needed to converse/share/exchange ideas with other people than just hubby and his family)!!! It’s hard to find other expats living in this small village, so blogging has literally saved my sanity! :-D

      And again I felt the isolation when infertility came to greet us and again I resorted to blogging, which has helped me A LOT in many ways. :-D

  6. Mrs G

    I agree. I think that it is a sign of intelligence and maturity to do a reality check from time to time. Discover if your priorities are the same or they have changed since last you checked. And then change your life accordingly. Maybe you just need to make small adaptations, other times to do a U turn.
    However it’s very difficult, it’s so much easier to get stucked in those usual behavioural patterns rather than do the right thing.

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