What To Do When You've Leaned In Your Whole Life by Leigha Kristoff

28 Books - Book 1 - Lean In – Women, Work and the Will To Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

I remember the first time I got in trouble for raising my hand too much. I was in 4th grade in Mrs. Watson’s class. We were doing a science lesson – building a compass out of a piece of cork, a needle, a magnet and a bowl of water. As she was conducting class I would raise and raise my hand and for the entire lesson she didn’t call on me. I knew this game, she had been doing it for awhile, not just with me but with a few of the other smarter kids in class too. So, I did the only thing I could do to get attention. I cried and threw a fit.

During recess, Mrs. Watson told me to stay back. She didn’t yell, but I definitely did. I was an over eager kid, and a know-it-all loud mouth to boot. I plainly didn’t understand why she wouldn’t call on me if I knew the answer. What she said is something that has been repeated to me so many times since. Just because you know the answer, doesn’t mean other people don’t know it too. I hated that answer then, and it still bums me out now, though the older I get the more I value the ability to keep my mouth shut (sometimes). It’s not that I hate it because I like to show off, or that I think other people are dumber than I am. I think it’s because something within me tells me that if I don’t say it, it will go unsaid. If it goes unsaid, something might happen where a detail is missed in a group project, or that unused information won’t make a case stronger.

I’ve struggled with this my whole life. In my career, at school, in my community service fraternity. With my friends at a bar, in interviews, at the dinner table. It’s a habit that makes me seem dismissive, rude, clueless to my surroundings. People have told me my tone is often condescending, that I don’t care about other’s opinions or even a few times, that I’m power hungry. I don’t deny the perception, but I used to not embrace it. I used to over correct my behavior. I would suck up to someone that I might have minimized to only later repeat information that I think they still missed. I would apologize for my behavior, only to skulk and mope around for weeks after because I felt slighted, diminished and excluded. I would always be upset and rant with my friends about my feelings, and for the most part, they didn’t know what to say. My parents would tell me to just keep my head down and do my work. That always rubbed me the wrong way. I always felt like if I backed down from bossy ways, I would lose respect. I always felt I wouldn’t be doing my passion justice if I approached my projects in a melancholy way.

I must admit when I started this first book, Lean In – Women, Work and the Will To Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, for my year-long self-discovery project, I was feeling a bit melancholy anyway. I just started to throw myself full force into finding a new full time role after growing bored and indifferent with freelancing. I left my job at Red Bull a year ago at the time, and I had been spending a lot of time reflecting on what went right and what went wrong with my time there. I had grown up, career wise, with Red Bull. I was in, for the most part, a male dominated group for my last two and a half years there. There are a lot of women at Red Bull, don’t mistake that. More than you would think. But in my area, that wasn’t necessarily the case. I was constantly trying to prove myself. The way I proved myself was loud and blustery, a la Teddy Roosevelt or Amy Poehler (both of whom are idols of mine). Teddy was a little more traditional on the loud and blustery front, but Amy and the characters she embodies…well, you wouldn’t call Leslie Knope quiet would you? Or her Smart Girls project “quaint”? The truth is, in the real world, in rare cases, this approach works women. In rare cases. And those are the cases you always read about. In my dreams, I am Peggy Olson, strutting down the hallway, shades on, cigarette in mouth, marching my way to dominance. The reality of that is far from the truth. But I hope that someday I can be both smart and hungry, with no fear of going after what I want.

"What I hear when I'm being yelled at is people caring really loudly at me" - Leslie Knope, my adult fictional role model

"What I hear when I'm being yelled at is people caring really loudly at me" - Leslie Knope, my adult fictional role model

I must admit, I did some pre-googling research on the book before I read it. Sandberg is often in the news – why wouldn’t she be? She’s the COO of Facebook. I came across an article or a comment on an article about Sandberg being someone’s aerobics instructor while she was in college. The gist of it was someone like Sandberg has been doing “the most” her entire life. Before I even read the book, that rang true to me. I’ve never done something halfway – if I do, it’s time to bring out the big guns and ask what alien imposter has taken over my body. So, going into it, I was thinking that this book might be very much directed at someone like me. Not to sound disappointed, but this manifesto seemed to me more of a catch-all for as many types of women she’s encountered, and not something that’s specific to a Type A go getter who struggles with her image (that’s me!). There is nothing wrong with Sandberg’s direction at all, the book just didn’t really appeal to me…until the last two to three chapters.

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If you know me personally, you know I’m a completionist, or at least, I try to be. When I game, I want to try to get to as near 100% as possible to the campaign. When I binge shows – I don’t sleep until it’s either all the way over, or it’s necessary for me to get a few hours of shut eye. Growing up, I read each of the Harry Potter books in less than a day, and in the case of Goblet of Fire through The Deathly Hallows, I read them from the moment of release so I could be one of the first on the online forums to start a discussion. This book, which in my heart I thought I would devour in a few hours, took me weeks to finish. I will admit I have been distracted by what John Oliver has been calling “Stupid Watergate” and I’ve been tinkering with my resume and website while applying for jobs, while also fulfilling my freelance contracts. I kept thinking to myself, well, eventually she’s got to talk about not backing down in a big way, right? She definitely spoke early on in Chapter 2, “Sit at the Table”, about how you can’t really start to get what you want until you actually sit down at the table with the rest of the boys. I found that though kind of common sense, I didn’t need to be told that, because I already do that. Again though, this book wasn’t tailored specifically to me, and I needed to remember that. So, I slogged on until I got to Chapter 9, “The Myth of Doing It All”. Like Sandberg, and many, many other women in the working world, I loathe this concept. Doing it All is a catch all phrase used to put down feminism and establish that the old ideals of keeping a home as a woman’s number one job. We don’t live in the modern era anymore, we live in a post-modern society. I’d like to start taking back the phrase “doing it all.” What doing it all means to me is exactly what I’m doing now, or what I want to be doing over the next few years. I want to work on projects that I’m passionate about with teams of people who care about their work too. I want to play video games, spend the time to cook tasty comfort food a few times a week, go to the movies, hike through the Colorado Rockies, drink all kinds of craft beer and start taking my writing ambitions seriously. Maybe one day I’ll finally drag a guy into that mix and find in him that partner who embodies the bastions of equality and loves some of the same things I do. But living my best life is doing it all for me, and that’s my definition of it. This chapter got me really fired up because it just enraged me with recognition that there are still millions and millions, perhaps billions of people who ascribe to the myth of a woman who’s both beautiful and smart, who succeeds at work all the time and raises a family in the vein of a perfect Pinterest board. If that is someone’s goal, great. But I really want to tailor people’s perceptions that the definition of doing it all or wanting it all is subjective to the owner of that ideal, not to the people who label them that way.

Which brings me back to the final two chapters that finally spoke to me. I was wondering if she was ever going to answer the question of what to do if you’ve leaned in your entire life. As someone who’s tried a lot of tactics through the years (in high school, it was sitting in the front row in all my classes; in college, it was asserting out loud to my fraternity brothers that I wanted to be a leader in Alpha Phi Omega from day one; at Red Bull, it was always contributing in any way I could), I was hoping Sandberg would reveal some magic tactic. She didn’t. She revealed a strategy. One that I had tried to employ at my time at Red Bull, but failed because of my dismissiveness and quite frankly because I didn’t have time for it. In Chapter 10, “Let’s Start Talking About It”, I found what I was looking for. This is a strategy that’s has been dominating the feminism world for awhile now. The truth is, as a larger society, we don’t like to talk about it. We don’t like to talk about the wage gap on an equal level. More women talk about it than men. In Hollywood, the most relevant case of a man supporting equal pay is what William H. Macy did for Emmy Rossum on Shameless. After Rossum demanded to be paid equal, Macy fully and publically supported her effort. Back in the real world, on the levels that the vast majority of white-collar Americans are, you don’t have men talking about it. Not just about the pay, but about the perceptions of women in the environments they work in, how they work in groups, the value that they might bring with a specific skill set. Sexism is overly present in the work place still. I’ve experienced it. You’ve experienced it. Women are often told to sit down, take notes and only contribute if called on. One time, I was told by a colleague that I didn’t know anything about the sport we were working on, so I should just let them handle it and I could just support. What that meant was writing the copy they wanted written, talking to the contacts they picked (or not even talking to them at all – but just providing the materials so they could do it themselves), and keeping my mouth shut while providing the budget to get the jobs done. I was incensed. I remember bringing it up in an end of year review with my VP at the time. He took it seriously enough to have conversations with me about it over the course of a few months, but we never took action. Why? I know the problem wasn’t unique to me, as much as the anxiety in my head told me that it was. Why are millions of women everyday metaphorically staring up at the upper management food chain, shaking their heads but not their fists? Of course, you could extrapolate that men don’t want to lose anymore dominance in society than they already have. But that evidence is feeling based, and no matter how many true facts you bring to the table, at the end of the day, it is the current way the structure of our societal institutions are built.

It will change as time goes on. That’s not my optimism talking, that’s history talking. You can pull from history books how society has changed over time to improve equality of the sexes. And that’s what Sandberg concludes the book with in Chapter 12, “Working Together Toward Equality”. We will all work together, some begrudgingly, to get to the point of equilibrium. It happens in nature, in science, everyday. This is where I found my answer to my query of what to do when you already lean in. If I’m already sitting at the table, if I’m already working to improve my perception at work, If I’m already talking about fixing problems, then the only logical conclusion is to keep working towards the end goal, every day. I can work at in micro ways, like properly asking for a say in a project, or in a macro way, like supporting Planned Parenthood and women’s access to health care. I’m not here for the personal clichés though. “Never Apologize” is my least favorite cliché. Because sometimes you do need to apologize for blowing up at a colleague or dismissing a strategy that you haven’t considered. I’m not here for the women’s only groups, the pussy hats or the hairy legs (though I will gladly go to those groups, wear a hat and support women who don’t want to shave – which is a modern burden tbh, because smooth legs feel great on clean bedsheets) – I’m here for getting the work done, improving upon whatever came before me, and pushing myself to reach my personal goals. What’s important, from a feminist perspective, is that those three things are goals that both men and women can achieve equally. It’s something that I can do regardless of my gender, because those are non-gendered goals to ascribe to. I didn’t think that’s what I would take from Sandberg’s post-modern feminist manifesto, but I’m glad my introspectiveness pulled and confirmed these goals out from within me and on to the written page. So, if you’re like me, woman or man, who’s always worked their hardest, done their best and are hungry for whatever lands on their plate, just keep in mind the universalness of those ambitions and pass them on to others who also lean in.

 

Me, one day, absolutely killing it like the legend Peggy Olson.

Me, one day, absolutely killing it like the legend Peggy Olson.

28 Books for my 28th Year by Leigha Kristoff

Tomorrow is my 28th birthday. Every year I tell my friends that my birthday is my New Year’s celebration. Why? Because it’s not just a flip of the calendar, like January 1st. It marks the passage of time that I’ve been allowed to march through this earth, fierce and unapologetic. My mom loves to tell people that she was barely in labor when she had me – I was eager to get here and make my presence known. I’ve never slowed down since.

The past few years have been the biggest years of my life thus far. I’ve travelled a ton – in my 25th year alone I did 80,000 miles domestically. I’ve learned a lot about love, rejection and anger. I’ve had the entire purple color spectrum course through my hair, and I’ve probably worn the same combination of graphic tank top/shoulder wrap/leggings and boots outfit 75% of the time. I’ve made friends, lost touch with some important ones and stopped seeing a few all together.

What I haven’t done very well is remember. I have spent so much time focusing on the most pressing moments. What’s next on my list? What can I tackle tomorrow? Where is my next flight? Who will I see tomorrow? I gaze into the future a lot, and I spend a lot of present time solving problems that needed fixing right away. As soon as those were solved, it was on to the next.

After leaving the great career incubator that was Red Bull, I took two months off. I did a lot of yoga. I watched a lot of movies. I took a lot of walks. I did something that I hadn’t done in so long – reconnected with myself. I started to ask myself – what is it that you like to do? What are a few things that made you happy when you weren’t working? I did not have any answers at the time, because frankly, I couldn’t really remember what my hobbies were outside of the few anecdotal bits that I would tell new people I met. Well I love to play video games! I’m a big Star Wars fan. I love the color purple. I started to wonder to myself, is that all you are? Those three things? That’s it?! I knew that I needed to remember what made me who I am. So, I took two steps. First, I started meditating. Second, I started writing things down again. I love the English language, but hadn’t really given it any thought in a while and I hadn’t done much in the way of using my command of it.

Meditating brought me back to thinking about my words. Not only how to use them, but how to use them to inform myself on my decisions that I made every day. Mindfulness is what most people call it, but I like to think of it more as awareness. Awareness in the sense that you know why you’re saying something, or feeling something, and applying that knowledge to what you decide to say or feel next.

So where have I ended up after spending a lot of time with myself?

I’ve decided to commit to finding myself, again. Over and over again. I’ve started making lists of things I know I love to do, and now it’s time to start committing to those activities. First up is going back to one of my earliest hobbies – reading.

Now, I already do a lot of reading. A lot. But it’s reading in the modern age – reading at 140 characters a second. Absorbing headlines and skimming the meat. We as a society spend a lot of time online. I’m definitely a power user. In the age of information, the real loss is the lack of absorption we have when it comes to what we’re looking at. I probably spend 2-3 hours a day reading the news. A lot of it is a rehash of the days headlines, but sometimes, I read long form pieces. But that’s not enough stimulation for the brain. Growing up, I read a lot. It was probably my number one hobby. In the summers, I’d read 30-40 books. Now, I pick up maybe 1-2 books a year. It’s my goal to change that.

For my 28th year, I’m going to read 28 books, and I’m going to blog about every single one of them. This is my personal commitment to get back to reading and writing. The English language was in many ways my first love. Many of you who know me, know that I am a talker. You never have to worry about leaving me alone at a party, because I will find someone to listen to me until you get back. However, the trifecta of the command of the English language needs to be personally restored, which means reading and writing as much as I talk.

The first book starts tomorrow morning with my morning coffee, replacing what used to be scrolling endlessly on my Apple News app while my French press got cold. Here are the rules:

1.     They can be fiction or non-fiction – but I have to read 14 of each.

2.      They must be in English! (My French language books burning a hole in my bookshelf can wait)

3.     They must be about something that I can personally benefit from.

a.      This could be advice/self-help/management type books

b.      They could be about inspiring people – fiction or real.

c.      If there is a moral, I must find it and apply it to myself

4.     I must complete at minimum 2 books a month

a.      If I don’t, then I will give up another hobby until I catch up.

5.     I must be reading the book for the first time – no repeats!

My first book in my personal book club? Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I’ve always been fascinated with women in powerful positions. Power isn’t always about money or rank. It’s also about command, control and communication – something all women can relate to, whether it’s in their household, work environment or personal relationships. Although Sandberg has been criticized not just for this book and her personal brand of feminism, but for her recent seemingly disturbing appearance as an appeasing Silicon Valley elite, I am much more interested in the concept of harnessing the power of feminism for everyone’s gain, not just for the personal gain of this particular young woman.

In conclusion – and if you’ve skipped straight to the bottom, here’s the TLDR.

Nearing the end of my 20s, I’m looking to rediscover and remember what made me. It’s easy to forget and suppress what came before you, but history is at its best when you can learn and grow from it. Starting with a return to what guided me, I’m hoping to guide myself to a better and brighter trip around the Sun.

Hello, Hello! by Leigha Kristoff

Hi everyone! 

I'm very excited to launch my website and my blog! Please stay tuned and I will be updating periodically with my latest projects, a look back on past projects and a peek into my thoughts about the larger world from the point of view of a nerdy, tech savvy late 20-something living in the Windy City. 

I can't wait to share my story and learn more about yours!

- HLK