Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook dynamo, recently published a book with her ruminations on how women can become more successful in the world of business. Her ingenious title is “Lean In.” While I have not read the book, I did see a 60 Minutes segment featuring her at the time of publication. I am struck by how alluring her title is and how deftly she tapped into the zeitgeist of the moment. From listening to her interview I believe she is proposing that women lean into more business responsibility, lean into a greater acceptance of work/home lifestyle compromises and lean into a new identity of self confidence and decision making. I’m intrigued by all this “leaning.” Since the publication of her book I see and hear that word everywhere. This morning on the elliptical machine at the gym the political program on the flat screen was titled “Lean Forward.” Leaning is peppering conversations, the written word and graduation speeches at collages and universities.
Why all this leaning? I suspect because it suggests a less intrusive, less vulnerable way of entering into a situation or circumstance. It feels less confrontational than a full attack. Anything that allows us to take temperatures and acquire samples before commitment is appealing to this generation. We don’t fire employees; we lean into a conversation that begins to indicate that their work is coming to an end. We don’t propose marriage; we lean into an understanding that gradually becomes an agreement. We don’t announce a specific goal; we discern our general objectives and allow the specifics to be shaped by the unpredictable. All of this feels to me like a roundabout way of avoiding the hideous possibility of failure.
Once we state our desire we have made a pledge that may or may not succeed. But if we allude, suggest and lean, then our advancement or diminishment might not be readily apparent to the critical observer. We might even be able to evade perceiving ourselves as having failed. Don’t get me wrong, I like the lean. I like assessing, studying, smoke screening but eventually we have to make the jump. At some point we must purchase the house, discipline the child, and accept the consequences of our losses or winnings. Ultimately someone has to say the words, “I love you,” “I forgive you,” or “I’ll take care of you.” If we keep angling ourselves in and out, at some juncture the lean becomes a push or a fall into the outcome. And the magic trick is finding a way to accept with dignity and contentment the inevitable rise and fall of our life story.