There's going to be some talk about leaning in. I’d like to speak about “leaning in” from the perspective of a woman who learned the men’s rules and did pretty well for awhile. I picked up all the cues about how I was supposed to behave, what I was supposed to do to play the game, how I could win. I earned a seat at the boardroom table, surrounded by men. I am grateful for the doors that were opened for me, when I behaved a lot like a successful man.
I rode the bus for a few rounds before I got off and started the process of sitting in front of the blank page, making up my own game, creating my own rules, and teaching myself a whole new way of "leaning in".
When we talk about “leaning in”, we have to talk about what that really means for individuals. To me, “leaning in” is about going toward the places that scare you. The real question is, “What scares you?” Most of us are living in remote places that are carefully designed to be far out of reach from what really scares us. We have concocted our plans based on meticulous avoidance of everything that really scares us.
We believe that this construction project actually spares us the feeling of being scared, but it follows us. It never leaves us. It camps out in dark corners inside us. We dart, we duck, we hide, we layer on coats of paint and makeup and accessories and postures that we think – hope – will cover it up. But it plagues us.
We seek relief, but we also secretly believe we’ll never find it. We think this is as good as it gets, so we keep pointing in the same direction.
So what are we leaning into?
Are we leaning into the things we think will make our fears go away? Will “ambition” lead us to a place where we will finally be safe? Will “success” in the workplace, attaining a title of power, actually make us feel empowered? Will “winning” at the men’s game finally make us feel like we’ve won our battle with fear?
But until we do the work of facing what really scares us, looking at it, pointing toward it, touching it, getting close to it, we won’t know. We will only be leaning toward some collective crusade that starts from outer appearances and tries to solve those problems cosmetically.
We won’t be looking inside ourselves to ask, “Where do I need to lean in?” Is it really ambition to step up in the workplace? Maybe. But it could be just as ambitious for me to do exactly the thing I think I cannot do – which may be giving up “ambition” of a certain kind, and going toward a whole different flavor of success, which looks a lot like failure to some people.
Ambition might look like a lot of different things, but we can’t know just by looking. We need to feel our own experience in order to know.
To me, leaning in feels like courage. Leaning in feels like facing the thing that you’ve avoided for so long. Leaning in feels like following the path of courage no matter what it may look like on the outside, no matter what rules need to be followed or broken. Leaning in feels like building strength that does not come from what other people say, or what titles I am granted. Leaning in is really leaning inward, to fill up the well of knowing without needing systems to change, or other people to change. Leaning in is true power.
But please don’t take my word for it. Lean in for yourself and find out.
Image credits: Woman - http://illustrationsource.com. Man - http://liberadio.com