Today, it’s personal. This isn’t about evidence-based therapy or psychological disorders – not this time. This will, however, come full circle to quality “Therapy That Works” though, so hang in there. Trust me on this one.
If you read the news, you have likely read about Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, and her recently published book, “Lean In,” a declaration that women need to become more assertive in the workplace and assume more leadership roles. She notes that for the past 30 years, despite earning more college degrees than men, women account for only 4% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. This number should definitely give us pause and I have a great deal of respect for Sheryl Sandberg and what she has accomplished, but I do believe her declaration only applies to those who are willing to “lean in” to that environment.
Sheryl Sandberg stated that too many smart, talented women become intimidated by work environments and their potential for leadership due to their aspirations of marriage, children, and family life. They therefore, instead of leaning in and achieving great things, lean back, essentially sacrificing career for personal goals.
I am not willing to lean in.
Leaning Back Toward Success
I admit it. I was always an overachiever. I graduated high school at 16, as the valedictorian of my class. I gained quite a bit of experience throughout college and graduate school and following my doctoral internship, in my mind, I was clearly ivy-league bound. I don’t think I was being arrogant. I think I was leaning in. I was being ambitious. I had an offer for a post-doctoral fellowship at one ivy-league University department, but was holding out for an interview with another. This interview was with a very impressive, internationally known female psychologist and her colleagues. I was young, newly married, and had a great deal of very specific experience in her area of expertise. The interview was going well, until…
She noticed my wedding ring and asked if I planned to have children. (I know, she was not technically legally permitted to ask such a question, but she did.) I said, “yes,” to which she responded, “If you want to be successful in this career, you will need to hire a nanny to raise your children like I did. Are you prepared to do that?” After I picked my gaping jaw up off the floor, I told her, “No, no, I’m not. I think I can have it all. I can have a family and a meaningful career. ” (Don’t be too impressed. I think I said this out of naiveté, rather than confidence). She may as well have asked me to leave then. Our interests clearly did not “match.”
And, thank goodness, too. I leaned back, way back. I didn’t take the other ivy-league position either, which required weekend work. Truth is, I wanted to start a family, and I hold no shame for having decided that, nor should any other woman (or man, for that matter). I was not willing to lean in, not to 7-day workweeks, not to the politics of grant writing and University politics, not when I also wanted a family life. I leaned back.
This experience helped clarify my goals for me, at least for a few years, until I would be faced with an impressive job opportunity in Washington, DC that I would ultimately turn down, again, deciding to lean back.
You see, for me it’s about balance. The DC job would have been impressive, but seeing my children less than one hour per day would have been unacceptable to me.
Ultimately, it’s not about assertiveness, leaning in, OR leaning back; it’s about finding your skill set and what you enjoy, standing up and confidently contributing to the world on your own terms. And so I did. This time, I was going to do it my way. Truthfully, I really always had, but that’s a post for another blog on another day.
Ten Years Later
Now, I have no delusions of leading a Fortune 500 company, but I do own and serve as the Executive Director of two outpatient behavioral health facilities as well as provide services as a licensed clinical psychologist. I won’t bore you with details, but I am fortunate to have wonderful opportunities and experiences in my career for which I am continually thankful. What’s important is that my career has been on my terms and I run my business in this manner too.
Why it Works
Here’s the thing; everyone wants to be happy. Right? Very few of us want to work an 80-hour workweek (even if we love what we do). Why does our culture believe it’s necessary to “lean in” to this environment in order to achieve success or become a “leader”?
I believe so few women “lean in“ to leadership positions, not because they don’t have the intelligence or talent, or because they are intimidated by the environment or distracted by their dreams of having children; they simply don’t want to. And, there’s nothing wrong with that.
I believe we can shape our own successful environments. In my facilities, I aim to hire highly skilled clinicians who are a good fit for our needs. However, we are a flexible, family-friendly, facility which encourages each employee to achieve their own work-life balance. I extend that same vision of success and work-life balance to them.
Employees set their own hours to a large extent and they are supported in their professional growth. I never ask my employees to take on more than they feel they are able to easily handle.
Just because we are not working 24 hours/day, does not mean we are not dedicated to our jobs. In fact, I believe that when we are not overworked, we are more willing to be available. And, with the technology of today, we can be available. We use these to our advantage to connect with one another when needed, despite our differing schedules and locations. In fact, I am available to my employees 24 hours/day by phone or text.
Work should be about quality, not quantity. Being overworked, in workload or in on site work hours, leads to burnout. When an employee begins to feel burned out, fatigued, and perhaps, down or unhappy about the job, it is reflected in all areas of their life. Their relationships at home may become strained and their work may become negatively impacted. We need to rethink our work hours. If we did, I believe we would see a more balanced and satisfied workplace, and, perhaps more females in leadership roles.
Ah see, I told you, I’d get to it.
When, an employee is treated well, that is, they are valued, well-compensated, respected, and not overworked, this will likely be reflected in how they feel about their work and colleagues, the quality of their work, how their patients feel about them, and their overall well-being. It’s a win-win for everyone.
I am still the same achievement-striving woman I ever was. I am just now that woman with a husband, house, three children, business to run, clinical work, media contributions, etc. I honestly do put in 80 hours a week, but not all in the office.
I have redefined, for myself, what it means to be successful. Whereas my definition used to greatly limit me, positioning me to “lean in” to an environment that discouraged my personal goals, my new definition and flexibility has lead me to both personal satisfaction and more professional successes than I would likely have achieved by “leaning in” years ago. I didn’t lean in and assert myself to obtain a leadership role; I stood up and created my own. That IS success.