"Ok, I'm ready to lean in now...just a little higher, guys..." says Sheryl Sandberg standing on top of a plank entitled "Everyone you ever met", held up by people like "Your college roommate", "Old boyfriend", "Girl who called you bossy", "7th grade math teacher", "your mom", and "your dad", as she is about to plunge into a pool of "Success", where there is a shark waiting


I never fully understood the problem I had with “Lean In” until I read “Outliers.”

The basic message I got from “Outliers” is that you owe your success to a million different factors (many of which are predetermined to throw you onto a success track). So many women will read “Lean In” and join a “Lean In Circle” and it will basically do nothing for them because they aren’t already pointed in the right direction, or dare I say it, born with the right personality. I understand what Lean In means and why it was written, but it was really hard for me to figure out how to actually apply the lessons she learned through life to my own life. I could only come to the conclusion that I would never end up like Sheryl Sandberg, because I’m nothing like her. I’m also not sure if she realized how much of her success depended on all of the other people behind the scenes that molded her into the kind of person she is today. Even down to the people who called her “bossy” as a little girl (which I’m sure her siblings did).

I was never called “bossy”. I was called a “know-it-all”, which still bothers me to this day (however, I am sort of that…I enjoy pointing out to people when they are wrong, which is exactly what a “know-it-all” is, not necessarily a person that knows everything :P). I grew up learning not to speak up (unless spoken to), which is why I hate talking in meetings today, unless I’m specifically asked a question. I grew up learning not to draw attention to myself, which is why when my juice box exploded in my backpack in 6th grade, covering my books and papers with fruit punch, I ran to the office in shame and asked that someone be called to take me home. I was the youngest of three, so I didn’t have anyone to be “bossy” to, and I coasted through school because all the teachers knew my two genius older sisters and gave me automatic A’s because I was related to them. (Also why I made the tennis team, apparently.)

Somehow, in a different universe, I could be like Sheryl Sandberg, at the top of a big company, if I had only taken the opportunities given to me and done the right things with them. That’s all it’s really about. What were you given in life, and what did you make with it? Not everyone is given the same things to begin with…not everyone is going to start with a clear path to Harvard, or a clear voice that demands to be heard. The fact is, everyone IS given something, and it’s what you choose to do with it that matters. Not everyone is meant to be the next Sheryl Sandberg, and not everyone CAN be.

I applaud her for telling millions of women not to back down, not to settle, not to give up, but we have to let women know that they aren’t failing if they don’t end up being at the top of a company, or if they marry someone for love and not just someone that will let them “Lean In”, or if they do decide that maybe they want to quit working and be a stay-at-home mom. And let’s take control of things, but not by banning words we think are the reason why we aren’t succeeding, because we might one day realize that being called something when we were little helped to shape who we are today.