Sorry Sheryl, but I decided to Lean Out

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In March of 2013 Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg’s much anticipated book, Lean In, hit bookstore shelves. I’d followed the buzz and clamored to the bookstore to get my copy right away. I was hoping that this highly successful woman would have the insight I needed, but alas I was underwhelmed. In the end I forged my own path and I decided to Lean Out.

Our workplaces are broken

Sandburg did quote statistics most women already know about the inequities in the workplace, and struggles that women face. She did share some of her own personal challenges with candor. I can’t disagree with any of the problems she presented, but I certainly noticed some glaring omissions.

I’ve lived a ton of clichés. I’ve worked the same job as men for significantly less pay (I made 1/3 to be exact). I’ve had bosses hit on me, or even worse try to force me to date their friends (isn’t that tantamount to prostitution?) I once found out that a young man, with no education or experience, who was an assistant manager reporting to me, was in fact being paid MORE than me. And then there was the time my employer tried to deny my maternity leave and when I “Leaned In” and stood up for myself they started building a case to fire me. I could go on, but suffice it to say, I know this is a man’s world.

However you look at it, my own career simply hadn’t gone the way I’d hoped it would. In fits and starts I’d poured myself, my WHOLE self into job after job, and over and over I’d hit walls, glass ceilings, or dead ends. No matter how hard I worked, how much I cared, how desperately I chased achievement and produced remarkable results, in the end I was depleted, unappreciated, and often looking for another job.

The mentor myth

Where Sandburg really went off the rails was in a chapter titled, Are you my mentor? Once you weed through the litany of humble brags and whatnot you find that successful women like Sandburg don’t want to be bothered with peons asking for mentorship. Her advice is to just plug away and work hard, somehow your mentor will just magically show up, after all, that’s what happened for her. It’s good to be Sheryl.

Funny thing is, that’s exactly what I’d been doing my whole life and my mentor had never come. Was something wrong with me? Of course not, ask ANY woman and they’ll tell you that mentors don’t fall out of the sky.

So what do we do?

Sandburg talks a lot about “Leaning In.” The idea feels a lot like victim-blaming, but basically she suggests women stand up for themselves, be assertive, and advocate on their own behalf. That’s nice, but I didn’t need a book to tell me that, I’d been standing up for myself for quite some time and it hadn’t really panned out in the ways Sandburg seemed to think it should.

In my experience “Leaning In” was a sure-fire way to find myself out of a job. My elusive mentor probably wasn’t going to show up any time soon, and I was at an all-time low.

Then I got a message from an acquaintance (who later became a friend and mentor.) “Maybe it’s time you start something of your own?” she said; and so I did.

Leaning Out

Around the same time another book was published. David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell, and it was just the inspiration I needed. In this book Gladwell makes the case that meaningful social change seldom happens from within, rather, the misfits, underdogs, and marginalized make the greatest impact from without, when they can play by different rules.

This became my formula. If the system is broken, why am I trying to be a part of it? Why try to fit where I obviously don’t? Why should I keep setting myself up to fail?

I decided to Lean Out, and for me that took the form of entrepreneurship. I started my own business, and did it my way, on my terms. That means people first, the profits will follow, and above all else, building everything I do on a foundation of loving-kindness.

You know what? I’ve never been happier.

My manifesto

One of the first things I did when I founded Tog Loft was write a manifesto. This was serious business for me, because it is the foundation of everything that I do. I’ve always lived and worked with purpose, but often found myself at cross-purposes with the organizations of my employ. Never again is my life and work out of alignment with my values, and for me that is a beautiful thing.

The Tog Loft Manifesto

We believe

every living thing deserves to be treated with dignity and respect

We want to live in a world where

cooperation and sustainability is our way of life

What we know for sure is

entrepreneurship and the arts are powerful catalysts for change

You matter

Your voice matters

You bring something wonderful into this world by being you

Tog Loft is developing space

Developing photographers, community, and entrepreneurship

with love