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Sunday, June 12, 2011

The New York Times ran a story today about commencement speeches and included an excerpt from Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, who spoke at Barnard College. Her words are worth repeating:

“Women almost never make one decision to leave the work force. It doesn’t happen that way. They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there. Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, ‘I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day.’ Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, ‘I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.’ These women don’t even have relationships, and already they’re finding balance, balance for responsibilities they don’t yet have. And from that moment, they start quietly leaning back.

So, my heartfelt message to all of you is, and start thinking about this now, do not leave before you leave. Do not lean back; lean in. Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That’s the only way, when that day comes, you’ll even have a decision to make.”


Sheryl Sandberg, courtesy The New York Times. Click for source.

After reading this, I realized how often I’ve heard young women plan their careers in just such a way: someday I’ll want to have a family, so I better rein myself in now. I call that “borrowing trouble” — reacting to a future, imagined problem. The small-scale version that I frequently hear from family and friends is: “Maybe I shouldn’t apply for that job. If I get it, I have to move to a new city/commute for hours/work all night/[insert other possible dire consequence here].” I’ve said it myself. But what I tell friends, family and myself is, “Apply for the job and worry about the consequences later. You can always say no.” Wimmins, don’t cut yourself off from opportunity!  You can always change your mind and your career (I’ve done it), but you won’t have the Best!Job!Ever! if you don’t even apply for it. Remember, the more you achieve, the more you’ll be able to make and break rules to suit your future needs.  And never forget what Adam Ant said, which I quoted just yesterday:

Don’t you ever, don’t you ever,
Lower yourself, forgetting all your standards.”

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61 Responses to “Career Advice for Young Wimmins: Don’t Borrow Trouble”

  1. Rocquelle says:

    EXCELLENT advice! I was guilty of doing this once when I was planning to become an English professor! I’m SO glad I didn’t go that route and am instead letting life and my creative heart guide my path!

  2. Susan says:

    so true. thank you for this post.

  3. Thank goodness I never took that advice and always followed my heart! I guess I’m just a natural born barger!

  4. elena daciuk says:

    yes! great post wendyb! people still laugh when i tell them i was an accountant…i’ve changed careers several times…many times without the backing of key people…but looking back…i know that every decision, every obstacle, every triumph..got me to where i am now…the job i am most passionate about…

  5. Rubiatonta says:

    You know, I don’t think I ever made a career decision that way. I tend to do the intellectual version of “Ooh! Shiny!” which means that my career path in some ways looks like snail tracks. Then again, I’ve always been more interested in having adventures than I have in settling down — sometimes the adventures are more like slogs, but how would I know if I hadn’t tried?

    My motto is, “don’t say ‘no’ until you’re really sure of what you’re saying ‘no’ to.”

  6. Rubiatonta says:

    (By “that way” I mean thinking about having to move, commute, etc. Editor, revise thyself.)

  7. Moni says:

    This is FANTASTIC advice. Thanks so much for sharing this. It definitely rings true for me — I’m currently hunting for my first job.

  8. jennine says:

    she’s talked about ‘leaning back’ before… i really think that’s true, women tend to lean back, we worry about being liked…

    my strategy is don’t lean back… go full throttle, and when the time comes to make decision, hire a nanny. woops.

  9. Maja Piraja says:

    Great advice, I needed to hear that actually. Oh, and my anti-spam word was “artless”. Hah!

  10. Dream it and do it, in the moment .. reaching for what you want is good and being greedy enough to say more please is good. There is no balance while you’re living it. Do it hard, fail and then fail better.

    Simply my favorite ever ever ever (so far, lol) of your posts.

    Just say yes and then figure it all out.

  11. So well said Wendy, I say always follow your dreams, worry about reality when it happens

  12. Nicola says:

    Oh dear. This is very good advice. I may have to do some recalculating!

  13. une femme says:

    Yes!! It’s much easier to pull back from a career than to build one. And I think many women shortchange themselves economically by *assuming* that they won’t be able to balance work and family/relationships. I also see sometimes a fear that they won’t be attractive to potential mates if they’re “too successful.”

  14. Poochie says:

    I didn’t lean back but I did make a few choices I often regret now. They were driven by fear and I should have gone with my heart rather than my head. I do mostly like where I am now but I try not to make such stupid choices any more. If I’m afraid of the choice I know that means I have to try it. I refuse to be led by fear any more.

  15. stacy says:

    Adam Ant gives great advice!
    I really get annoyed when women have a “master plan” that they try to follow… live a little, bitches!

  16. Queenzelda says:

    Hi Wendy B

    I never comment but always look forward to your mirth or wisdom (depending).

    I completely agree with this advice. I’m a corporate lawyer and am so sad to see wonderful, smart women drop off along the way for this exact reason. It’s like they run out of puff sometime in their late 20’s/early 30’s and then just start planning their kitchen renovations or nurseries.

    (spam filter is nodisco… i say YESdisco!)

    • WendyB says:

      I don’t always remember where my word verification comes from but I remember this one: “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around!”

  17. A million times yes. Really been digging your awesome encouraging posts!

  18. Eli says:

    Thank you so much Wendy for this post, I feel like it is way too easy to forget this and cut yourself short at times,

    ps. Laurie David gave the commencement speech at my college graduation!

  19. Tanvi says:

    This happens so many times. A lot of times (in Indian culture) even when women are deciding on their career parents would often ask them to weigh in if their careers would be acceptable to their in laws and husbands (since a lot of them live together). They are often discouraged to take up jobs which might require late nights and/or long hours. Even if they fight through it with their parents, they often lose the battle after marriage!

    But a very sound advice.

  20. kavery says:

    ‘Lean in’- it makes so much sense. She’s said it so well. We do tend to get discouraged by the little things till the big decision is made. More power to women!

  21. LOVE this! Thanks for sharing!

  22. mystyle says:

    Hi there-wise words and another great post xx

  23. Superb post. Such good advice!

  24. tina m says:

    Wendy, Women sell themselves short in so many ways. Years ago, I went to LA to visit a friend of mine. Even though she made good money, she still had college furniture (milk crates, etc..). Her justification–she wanted to wait until she was married to buy nice furniture. She wasn’t even dating anyone at the time!!

  25. I love this post! I’m the same, always leaning in, always “Let’s do this!” I learn while on the job, never letting on I know nothing. And so far, so good.

    The only time I reined in myself was when I was offered the editor in chief position for Good Housekeeping Philippines. The magazine needed a huge makeover. I just found out I was pregnant so I had to choose between the baby and a new brand. I chose the baby, of course, but I was screaming inside.

    But the moment I turned down the job, I felt at peace. And now, almost 2 years later, I’m really quite happy with how things turned out. I still have OK! magazine, I have a baby, and I’m starting a bag business!

  26. MJ says:

    This is AWESOME!! It’s one of those things that you hear all the time but it takes the right person at the right time to say it for it to really sink in! This is great advice especially for someone like me who is trying to make a career change.

  27. Adam Ant makes an excellent careers advisor!

  28. Susan Tiner says:

    I am guilty of leaning back myself but will keep this better strategy in mind in talking with the younger women in my life.

  29. Busty Satan says:

    This was one of three points she made in her TED talk about how to get more women in the C-suite and it was the one that really resonated with me too. A friend moved cities, took a promotion, and bought a house while 6 months pregnant; she’s my shining example of leaning in.

  30. Marian says:

    That is a great excerpt!
    Thank you for sharing hun

  31. Kathy says:

    Like our wonderful mutual friend Melissa, I too am in the midst of a major change. She says I inspired her because I started my move back in October – somewhere along the way the bitch beat me!! She’s already out of Dodge and moved to Taos! But I’m close behind – sold the coop and plan on being in Clearwater, FL by August. Got no house or a job yet and standing here strong spreading my wings and “leaning in”!! It helps that I’ve done major life changing moves before – practice does make more things perfect.
    We only go around once (at least at a time) so just too it! Live in the moment with an eye on your future and a memory of the past and you can’t be beat, except by that best friend who you inspired! Go, bitches!!!

  32. Tina says:

    Preach! I am leaning WAY in…

  33. Winnie says:

    Totally inspired Wendy! Definitely taking this advice!

  34. Gloria says:

    Aw, thanks for this! Even as a young 21 year old, sometimes it is hard for me to remember that working my dream job now doesn’t necessarily mean I will be forced to change my plans for kids and a husband later. I think in today’s society, though, there is a sort of stigma against being a woman with a high ranking position in any kind of company. People will asssume that she either has no family or personal life, or that she has a seriously neglected family and personal life. I believe that we all nedd balance, but I don’t believe we have to sacrifice one dream for the other.

    • Gloria says:

      *need. Oops.

    • WendyB says:

      Anyone who worries about what people think of her personally due to her success is probably not going to be successful enough to warrant the time spent worrying! Talk about borrowing trouble! “If I am successful, people will think I can’t get laid”? Damn, girl! That is something that has never even crossed my mind.

  35. Great advice Wendy! I recently got a new position (that I’m very proud of) and I’m putting the pedal to the metal on my career. I’m young, single and kid-free so I’m not going to worry about any of that slowing me down ever!

  36. Brie says:

    Excellent post Wendy!

    I shall have to remember this because the people who jump to the negative can make you doubt decisions in your life and miss out on things. You HAVE to lean forward and not worry about things that haven’t happened yet.

    And how cool is it that my Anti-spam word for this comment was: bebetter ?

  37. Leah says:

    Great advice! Especially for young women trying to figure out the right path to take.
    Thanks Wendy.

    xo L.

  38. Nickie Frye says:

    Yea, it’s tough. I was all about my career until I got pregnant. It never occurred to me that having a child would change me so much. I left my job after having my daughter &, though it was a difficult transition, I really feel that in “giving up my life” I actually found it! Now I have my own business & TWO beautiful children that I am blessed to spend time with without some bitchy boss driving me around. I don’t think you can plan for it. One foot in front of the other & roll with the punches as they come. Anyway, I hope you are well. Sorry I haven’t been by in a while. xoxo -Nickie

  39. drollgirl says:

    wise words! wise words indeed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  40. Thank you for these words of wisdom. I completely agree.

  41. Older wimmins need to follow this too. I wouldn’t be returning from a fab week at Yale had I worried that Mr. C couldn’t handle the parenting responsibility on his own. Aim high, and then figure out how to do it once you get the offer!

  42. She’s so right and I’m sure sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Planning out our lives like that can prevent us from some great opportunities.

  43. MJ says:

    Aaaagh, I’m so conflicted about this TED talk.

    I’m a full time, childless, female lawyer. I do not love being a lawyer. I picked it/family shoved me into it because it is presitigous (to someone, presumably) and it was the responsible thing to do after the cost of private school. I “wanted” to be a writer or academic but apparently that didn’t look good enough…

    So this means I can’t try to find a practice area that I don’t hate? Or make sure that I only work 60 hours a week so I don’t lose my mind and die? Does she realize what working 80+ hours a week in something you hate is like? What does this mean – that we have to lean forward into work that makes us want to cut off our own heads? I can’t get behind that!

    IDK, perhaps I’m also not realizing that some people like what they do and “leaning forward” is not akin to a death sentence. I have heard of such things but not seen them in my legal world.

    • WendyB says:

      Girlie, I think she’s talking about working hard at something you LOVE. Not something you hate! If you genuinely hate something, it’s insane to put more time into it.

      Lots of people quit the law because they hate it. You can do that too.

  44. Lara says:

    I love this so much. I know I’ve made that same mistake.
    Hell, my bf’s dad just made that kind of decision – instead of going to Germany for his next contract, he’s staying in the states because his parents are getting older (but still totally kicking ass). You can understand the decision but kinda wish he had taken the plunge.