Saturday, May 31, 2014

How I Am Just Like the World's 5th Most Powerful Woman

I'm about a year late to this party.

I am reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, and I have to say, I am not as disgusted by it as I thought I would be.

About two and a half years ago I read her article in The Atlantic, and I think if I were a cartoon character there would have been smoke shooting out of my ears. I was agitated. Irate, even. Mind you, I had just had my third baby and was spiraling downward, downward, into postpartum depression and anxiety. But still. Side note: I read a (long-ish) magazine article with a newborn? I don't know how that happened, and I'm surprised that I even remember it.

My criticisms for her ideas were similar to others' criticisms: why make women feel so shamed and responsible for the gender disparities in these high-level sectors? Why make me feel bad for not being ambitious enough? Thank for your advice, brilliant, rich white lady, etc. etc.

So I dutifully avoided her book when it came out last year. Of course, I read a lot of other peoples' reviews of it to justify my distaste for anything she had to say and so I could chastise any friends who were reading it or talking about reading it (sorry, I'm a jerk).

And then my book group reconvened and the onus was on me to choose a book. Naturally, I chose this one. I thought, if nothing else, it would be fun to all hate a book together since usually we all love a book together. Or even better: maybe we'd get into an exhilarating yelling match.

I'm only half way through the book, and I'm disappointed to find that it might not actually cause the uncomfortable, angst-ridden debate that I was hoping for. In fact, there are some ways that I can really relate to Sheryl Sandberg, and my guess is that many women - and possibly some men - can too.

Here's the thing I really connected with and that surprised me: she also thinks that one day people might find out that she's a total fraud! Sheryl Sandberg, the 5th most powerful woman in the world (what that means, I have no idea), lacks confidence in her abilities and knowledge from time to time.

I'm not the only one who feels this way? Really?

I was not expecting this book to cause me to do any reflecting or soul-searching, but it has.

It has me thinking about all of my evaluations during nursing school. They were all excellent reviews, but I would wince each time going into them wondering if this would be the one where they would tell me they found me out. "Melissa, we can tell that you really have no idea what you're doing. You're off the island. Goodbye."

It has me remembering a discussion about faith and politics (eek, don't discuss those!) that Tom and I led when we were working together in campus ministry years ago. It went really well - good turnout, good discussion, we did everything in our power to make it go well. Afterwards, Tom asked me how I thought it went, and I had a laundry list of criticisms (mostly of myself) and ways for how we could have done better. He looked at me completely confused - probably a little hurt - and was just like, "Oh. I thought it went really well."

It has me thinking about my parenting. About how I agonize over certain decisions - and sometimes I care a little too much about what others will think. About how I don't actually enjoy playing "make a house" with the Magna-tiles for the fifth time today - and maybe you'll all find out about that and know that I'm not a very good mother.

I don't know why we do this to ourselves - why we are so critical. And while there is something particular about the way women do this to themselves, I don't really think men are completely immune either.

Recently a piece by Rob Lowe about sending his son off to college was excerpted from his memoir and posted various places online. In it he tells his son, "Don't compare your insides to other people's outsides." I think this is really wise advice (thanks, Rob Lowe), especially in our social media saturated world where everyone's outsides can be so smartly edited with Instagram filters and witty status updates. Simple words as they are, I need to repeat them to myself often.

And it was so refreshing to hear that even Sheryl Sandberg has to heed this advice at times.

So, if we know that everyone feels like a fraud on the verge of being found out from time to time, maybe we can all relax a little. I'm ok. You're ok.

And maybe we can try to think of some things that we objectively are good at. I'm going to start with pizza-making. I make really good pizza. Objectively. It's good. I will post a recipe on how to make pizza on the grill later today - and if you haven't tried grilling your pizza yet, you should!

Ok, I'll try to think of more substantive things that I'm good at, and I hope you will too.

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