Here’s the thing. I’ve led my entire life living up to the expectations of others. I in some ways, in most ways, have taken on the role of the oldest child. One of three siblings, I was the middle child. I admittedly do have some of the traits that psychologists attribute to the child in the middle: I am a peace keeper, I do believe in the goodness of others, and I am inherently the adult child who deeply, who at times over-emotionally, cares. Please understand I’m not implying that my siblings don’t care. It’s just that for some reason, due to some dynamic in my family, I’ve inadvertently assumed that role.
Let’s get back to the leaning in. I googled the term and this is what I found: “In early 2013, the term "leaning in" started popping up on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The term comes from the book "Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” published in March 2013 by Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. The book traces its origins to a Ted Talk Sheryl Sandberg gave titled "Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders". The point of her message was to convince professional women to stay in the workforce and "lean in" to whatever role they are playing.”
Although this concept may be “new” it is essentially a repackaged definition and concept regarding the role of women. I was raised as a young woman in the 1980’s. My father and I had a different relationship than that of my other siblings. He pushed me to achieve. He said to me that “I don’t celebrate mediocrity” when I brought home less than “A’s”. My parents moved from Iowa to the St. Louis area with my Dad's job. They purposefully chose a school district that would provide the best education a public school could offer. This school was filled with overachievers. It wasn’t if you went to college, it was where you went on the way to graduate school.
The young women at that time were expected to achieve, achieve, achieve. In education, in occupation, in life. We, and all of my female peers who grew into adulthood at that time, were expected to be “hard chargers.” We were expected, to coin today’s term, to “lean in”. I suspect this was because it was the period in which Ronald Reagan expected all in society to become independent and self-sufficient. To place work above all other things.
So I did that. I met all of these expectations of my parents and of society. I became the woman I thought I needed to be. I’ve described my life in my fictional work, Jennifer’s Mask. Truth be told, I wrote this “fictional” work as an exact reflection and experience of my life growing up and my life as an adult woman. At times, I wrote about some things that were brutally honest, that may have caused discomfort in my family. I wrote truthfully about my life up until that point as Jennifer. Now it is time to write about me, as me.
I’m through leaning in. I’m finished with living a life of expectations of who I am and who others expect me to be. I’m certain I will continue to be that responsible person who loads herself with societal expectations—to a point. The thing is, I’ll always be there for those members of my family who have proven their loyalty and show their love for me through not just words but actions. To be frank, I have people in my life with whom I’ve made a conscious decision over the past few years to remove myself, both emotionally and physically. This isn’t in blame or in anger. It’s out of self-love and of a realization that I deserve genuine people in my life who care for me and, most importantly, who I care for. With these people there is no pretense, no competition.
Leaning in and being a “hard charger” no longer appeals to me. I no longer desire or need, at any level, to be that woman who “does it all.” I admittedly love to work and to continue to challenge myself with the sometimes complex and intricate dynamics that managerial and/or executive level positions entail. The difference for me now is that I’m not chasing that “thing”; that drive to excel, that higher and higher income. I no longer want to sacrifice my emotional, physical and spiritual health to achieve these things. I’ve realized that ultimately the question for me is “to what end?”
So this is where I am in the second chapter of my life. I’m scaling back regarding material possessions so that I may experience those things which bring me joy—traveling with close family and friends, taking time to just be. I’m learning a new language (Spanish) and am obtaining my second Master’s degree for the mere fact that it interests me and keeps my mind sharp. I don’t get “bent out of shape” anymore at the games and the ridiculousness of life sometimes. I still am that person who believes that most people are inherently good. The difference, I’ve come to realize, is that I deserve to receive that goodness not only from others, but most of all, from myself.