“Leaning Out” and “Reclining”

About a year ago, I blogged about how I was reading the book Lean In and how I was gleaning quite a bit from it — especially with how I would relate to my daughter and how I wasn’t so sure “leaning in” was for me.

A year and another child later, I still feel the same as I shared in this excerpt here on my blog last March.

“It’s funny. I used to think I was ambitious — and in some respects, I still do. It’s still my dream to be a published author (something I haven’t forgotten about; life has just been too busy to focus) …. but at work, I am satisfied with my status quo. I love my job and my role and don’t really want more. I realize how awful that might sound to some readers – how could she be content and not want more?! But I genuinely don’t. I want to be respected for my work, but what I want most of all is to have more time with my family. I don’t want to work harder or longer in order to make more money/be more successful. I think I work hard enough/long enough right now. I might not (OK, will not) get a promotion for feeling this way … but to be honest, that’s OK. I don’t want to leave work at 6 or 7 every day and miss that short window I have with my sweet girl. I’m learning that my ambition has a glass ceiling … and it’s one I created. That said, I recognize this. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing to feel this way.”

Yup. I still feel that way, even moreso now. In fact, I was discussing with a friend recently about how it’s almost like a mid-life crisis in your mid-to-late 30s, when you realize you might have hit your own ceiling at work and are more or less OK with it because you know the sacrifices that would be required to get that super-profile position and while it might be right for someone else, you just aren’t willing to make them. It’s the time of your life when you would prefer to throw yourself into your passion project(s) … but feel paralyzed because though you want to do something meaningful … you need money to live on. It’s a really tough space to be in and I totally get it.

A new article in Foreign Policy magazine reaffirmed how I’ve been feeling: Recline! Why Leaning In Is Killing Us. I  hope you’ll read it in full (it’s lengthy but an easy-flowing read) but in case you don’t, the basic premise is the author tried to lean in in all aspects of her life — work, home, family, marriage … and, a year later, decided to get the hell out of dodge; all that “leaning in” made her positively miserable. She just couldn’t be everything to everyone at once and had to make sacrifices in order to find happiness. I like how she basically confirms that it doesn’t make one a slacker for not wanting a seat at the table. It just means my priorities might be different than yours, and that’s OK. Maybe for you, reclining means saying “no” to the PTA, the nonprofit board, and the monthly charity auction in favor of more time at home with your kids; maybe for someone else, reclining means limiting evening activities; and maybe for me it might mean exploring different flex-time options someday. Who knows.

Overall, the article is one of the best I’ve read on the subject of being a working-outside-the-home mother. The only part of the article that doesn’t apply to me is the fact that Luis and I really do share household duties and responsibilities — so I don’t feel like all that falls to me. While he is usually the one to take out the trash and usually it’s me who gets the kids ready in the morning (“traditional” gender roles), we pretty much split everything up depending on what needs to be done and when. Most of Ben’s care falls to me because I’m a nursing mom, but he changes diapers and prepares bottles for me — which is a huge help. Tonight, for example, he cooked dinner; I cleaned up. He bathed Maya and tucked her into bed while I pumped and washed bottles.  And he’s doing a load of laundry as I blog. It isn’t so much tit-for-tat as a matter of efficiency: we’re both very much task-oriented people and the quicker we finish our tasks, the quicker we can just chill at night or work out.

The more I read, the more I realize I’m not cut out for leaning in; I love the idea of being treated as an equal — but I don’t want to put work above all else in order to get there. If anything, I’d like to have the scales tipping in the opposite direction, especially while my kids are young. Since not working isn’t an option (I genuinely do love my job and financially really need to work) I have to make do: that means being fully present at work when I’m at work … and being fully present at home when I’m home. It won’t get me the corner office, but I’m OK with that.

My view is pretty great as it is.

How about you? Are you more inclined to lean in or recline? Did your view shift depending on what stage of your career you were in?

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4 thoughts on ““Leaning Out” and “Reclining”

  1. I’m reading Lean In right now and I keep thinking, “Yes, if I didn’t have a family, this is how to do it.” I’m starting a new job and people keep talking to me about where I can go next from this job – and I just want to sit in THIS job for a while and stabilize my family life. I need to make a name for myself a bit at my new job, so I’ve been thinking of it as selectively leaning in. I can’t coast, but I can’t sacrifice my work-life balance at this point. I think life has phases and this phase is about Nate, my marriage, and my health. Work has been and will be in the future.

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