I have recently been twice inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. She took me by surprise because, while I am a devoted (read: addicted) user of Facebook, I’ve never been particularly trusting of its leadership. But when a friend forwarded me Sandberg’s commencement address at Barnard University, I knew right away that I was reading words of wisdom. And a few days later, when I read a story about her in The New Yorker, I was further convinced I’d discovered a voice worth listening to.
Oh, how I wish I’d been encouraged to lean in when I was eighteen or twenty-two. Even then, I was already starting to gently opt out, so casually certain was I that I’d marry my high school boyfriend, or, later, that I’d find a husband before I graduated college. I will never be one of the lawyers who doesn’t push to make partner because she knows she wants kids down the road–I am the girl who didn’t bother taking the LSATs, since I preemptively concluded a law career wouldn’t blend with my family plans.
Which may well be true. And I’m not sorry I’m not a lawyer—I’m a writer and a journalist, always have been. But I cringe a little bit when I consider my previous willingness to sacrifice my own dreams for the good of my future family. I cringe more when I realize I didn’t even think much about what those dreams were. I simply assumed I’d be kept busy in other ways and, when I found myself single after graduation, snagged an acceptable job for the time being. Sandberg points out that women like me have sought to find balance for responsibilities we don’t yet have. And it’s true: I have spent some prime post-college years “quietly leaning back.”
But no more. I have found yoga, which, along with my writing, fills me with passion, real passion that I can act on today. I don’t need to lean back because there is nothing to wait for–maybe someday I will have to choose between my career and my family, but then again, maybe not, and at any rate, if I don’t build something for myself now, there will be nothing to decide, nothing worth returning to (or sticking with).
I am a little sad that I didn’t entirely absorb this concept sooner, but I do trust that my life’s journey is unique and that I am exactly where I need to be. So I must have required the lost years of my twenties to fully get my bearings. However, I am ready now. Ready to give what I have to offer, and to seriously consider a question of Sandberg’s: “What in the world needs to change, and what part do [I] plan on playing in changing it?”
I believe that what needs to change is our society’s tolerance for blame, greed, and hate. Citizens of the world must become unwilling to allow unnecessary suffering, and willing to choose love over fear, again and again. This kind of change cannot be externally implemented–it must come from within, one person at a time. But I do think I can help.
Sandberg is right when she says that “It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a very clear path to happiness.” That path is one I have been on for at least a year or two, but definitely since January, when I started this blog and publicly professed my desire to make a difference in the world by expressing myself and sharing my yoga. By setting an example of internal exploration and encouraging others to do the same, I am allowing myself to emerge as a leader, someone who can have a concrete impact on my community.
So sincere thanks to Sheryl Sandberg and her well-intentioned wise words. Sure, it might have been helpful to hear them sooner, but what matters is that I am leaning in now–and I am doing it with love.