It has been a really long time since I have been so moved by a book. I recently devoured “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and cannot help but better recognize patterns of leaning in (or failing to lean in) in my own behavior and with those around me. Many of the lessons in the book are particularly timely for my tween as she is on the brink of graduating from her relatively safe and contained elementary school environment to the big new world of middle school.
“Lean In” has generated a healthy (and, in some cases, hateful) dialogue as the book focuses on gender differences in society and how women’s voices are not equally or fairly heard. I am not prepared to extend the debate here – but did capture the most important lessons I want my 10-year old tween daughter to learn before she makes the leap to middle school. The lessons captured below are the same I would hold important for my 3-year old twin sons, but how much I will need to reinforce these with them, as well, is too soon to call.
My favorite part the following video from Sheryl Sandberg is the last line: “This is about believing in yourself.”
My Lean in Letter to my Crafty Tween:
My dear girl, I just read an amazing book called “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. She is a top leader at Facebook and shares some valuable lessons for all on how to make your voice heard. You are getting ready to move on to your next big adventure as you graduate elementary school and start middle school. You already have a strong grasp on the lessons below, but when your world gets shaken up by new friends, new rules and a new environment – this list will help keep you on the right path. Even if you forget this list, know that I believe in you and that you have an important voice to share.
1. Expect That You Can Achieve
If you are ever in doubt, remember your favorite quote “She believed she could so she did”. If you expect that you can learn a new topic or score the winning soccer goal, you will be that much closer to achieving the goal. Sometimes this means raising your hand in class to participate and ask the important questions or to share own viewpoint.
2. Chart Your Own Unique Course
Sandberg clarifies this well by reminding us that “there is not one definition of success or happiness”. My dear daughter, I believe all life paths are open to you – find one that brings you happiness. You have already shown that you can tackle a 100-food list challenge that includes some pretty slimy or bitter foods instead of opting for your favorite pizza restaurant.
3. Sometimes You Need to Break the Rules
As much as I expect you to respect your parents, elders and teachers, use your judgement to raise your hand and speak up when something is really important to you but you are not being heard. You are learning to do this when the twins dominate our attention and take over any space. Look ahead to when you are in middle school and you have a room full of energetic classmates asking for attention. This is where your creativity can be your best path to be heard. Sometimes you will need to turn things on their head. Find inspiration from your crafty maven Aunt Pauline who decided to break the rules and use her printer to print on things other than paper – including paper bags and washi tape.
4. Sit at the Table
The first step in making sure you are heard and seen is to make sure you have a ‘seat at the table’. This is why we have always had you sit at the ‘adult table’ with dinner guests so you can feel comfortable speaking your mind in front of others much larger and louder than you. Of course, it helps that you have something to offer at the table that you can talk about (like your amazing guacamole).
5. Own (and Celebrate) Your Successes
Imagine you have just won Artist of the Year at your school (if there were such an award). Celebrate the success without downplaying your abilities. You are awesome! Say “thank you” and be proud.
6. Learn to Negotiate
Whether you realize it or not, we have been teaching you from the beginning that how you make your argument impacts the outcome for success in your favor. I love Sheryl’s advice to “think personally, act communally” when negotiating. This means keeping a focus on your best personal outcome, but position the arguments in favor of the best solution for all (everyone wins).
7. Learn to Withstand Criticism
This advice is particularly timely as you enter middle school. Some criticism may have some valid suggestions for areas to improve. In other cases, criticism merely represents a bully’s way of deflecting their own insecurities by putting someone else down. Learn the difference and find support with those (….especially Mom and Dad) who will remind you of how amazing you are! Do you need some more inspiration? Remember Aunt Pauline’s wallpapers and be strong.
8. Learn New Skills
Ask yourself how you can improve. Challenge yourself and enjoy the ride. You will be able to select elective courses for the first time. You might find that choosing a class totally out of your comfort zone (like industrial shop class) will open new worlds. You never know where the new skills will take you. (Imagine you are Aunt Pauline’s assistant in TLC’s Craft Wars and someone needs to learn the jig saw to build the perfect birdhouse)
9. Figure Out What You Really Want
You are already wondering how you will get the best teachers in middle school. What does the ‘best’ teacher mean to you? If you figure out what the best style of teacher is for you – you will have a clearer vision of what to look for in a teacher (and will better negotiate with me (see #6) on how to state that on the parent input form for the new school).
10. Ask “How Can I Do Better?”
Without losing your confidence, recognize that we are all in a state of growing and learning new things and that asking how you can improve can speed up the learning curve. The tricky part is finding someone you trust and that who can remind you of your strengths while also giving real suggestions for even stronger performance.
11. Stay in the Present (Don’t Leave Before You Leave)
Sandberg takes a different path on this point as she explains women changing life paths for future family life. My point to you, my dear daughter, is to stay committed to your current passions while in the moment- even if you see a transition down the road. You have already started considering changing to choir instead of continuing your violin (If your violin teacher is reading this- don’t worry- we haven’t made a decision to change yet). It is too soon to make that decision – so stay committed now with your violin practice and learn as much as you can now while you are prepping for the year-end recital.
12. “Done is Better Than Perfect”
I think this advice is speaking more to me as a more-than-occasional perfectionist – but since you are my daughter and could easily fall into the same trap – take heed. If the drawing for your school project is not quite perfect – but it is already 10pm and past your bedtime- it’s time to wrap up and be happy with your work. Get sleep.
You are truly awesome. Believe in yourself. Find your own path. Raise your voice and be heard. Use your creativity to find the best way to make your point. Above all, remember I love you and am here for you.
For more on this topic, check out personal stories shared at LeanIn.org.
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