Leaning In to Life

Porch Sitting

After reading and loving Lean In, I have been pondering the concept. Many of us can attest to the fact that Sandberg, while writing to a wide audience, is actually addressing a niche group.

After several years over HR, this truth became even more abundantly clear. The vast majority of folks sit in the cut; they do as little as possible to get by at work. I could never relate to this lack of enthusiasm and vision; however, I frequently wondered if they had it right all along.

Most of my fellow employees who made mediocrity (or worse) their home had what appeared to be interesting personal lives. Plus, they always left work by 5 PM. The thorn in this plan is that they never rose to (or remained in) a position where their salary could create future freedom and they also never took the risk to go out on their own to create freedom now. While they weren’t very dedicated, they were still slaves to their jobs.

The women that Sandberg’s manifesto sings to are the overachievers and high performers who are struggling to balance expectations at work, at home, and from within. These are the women who can lean in and fully commit, an attitude that would only become self-reinforcing for a type-A personality.

I have spent years trying to lean in to every aspect of my life, because that’s the overachiever mentality. I had to be great as an employee, a leader, a mother, a wife, a cook…everything. Unfortunately, I finally had to acknowledge that leaning in to traditional work is mutually exclusive from leaning in to life.

As a former executive who was constantly scanning the organization’s workforce for high performers, I can tell you that if you have even a basic level of competence and truly lean in to excellence on the job, you will eventually (or quickly) get promoted. Once promoted, you will likely continue to rise.

Barring being promoted out of your skill set, you will find yourself in a highly rewarding, but highly demanding position, potentially in the C-suite. Inevitably, your mind will have responded to your years of focus and the hamster wheel will turn 24/7 with thoughts of work. You will work at least 50 hours each week, on-site. There will be many more hours spent at home, at the park with your kids, or on vacation where you will be working in your head, if not outright on your laptop or smartphone. Work will become at least 75% of your life.

For me, it was more like 90%. I lived and breathed my job, and I was great at it. And while I tried to be the best mother and wife possible, at least when I was home, I failed miserably and constantly. There isn’t much rope left at the end of a long, high pressure day. Even my attempts to cook a decent meal (the one time each week that I was home to cook it), I often failed at that favorite task as well.

In my imperfect opinion, having experienced the lifestyle of a C-suite position and now that of a work-at-home solopreneur, the sacrifice of leaning in at a traditional corporate job is just too great. The opportunity cost is to lean out of your actual life, and we likely get just one shot at this.

Leaning in to life for me has meant sitting on the porch with my coffee when I would normally be getting ready, having breakfast as a family (still in my pajamas), and writing and reading every day (often in the garage with my husband). I get to spend the day with my 3-year-old, pick up my 8-year-old from school, cook whenever I want, take my kids on afternoon rides on the four-wheeler, and hike when I would normally be commuting.

My days feel free because of so much time saved, translating to sitting in the hot tub having pointless but funny conversations with my spouse, exercising at least four times each week (and actually having fun), and ending each day on the porch with a glass of wine, watching the baby deer and bunnies cross through our yard.

Bookending each day with a long conversation with someone I love on the porch overlooking a beautiful mountain valley? That’s my brand of leaning in.

How do you lean in to your life, or how would you if you could really commit? Have you found a way to balance a traditional job with an incredible life?