There has been a lot of excitement over Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In movement. The gist of Sandberg's idea is to encourage women -- through "circles," lectures, forums, and other forms of support -- to lean in to their careers, to work toward achieving positions of leadership in government and industry. It has inspired millions of women to action. For the last few months, I've been part of a lean in-esque women's group that gets together once every six weeks to discuss mostly career and work-related women's issues and to support one another in our various endeavors. It's been an absolute pleasure.
While I'm all about achieving one's career dreams, as a dating coach helping women create healthy, happy dating lives and relationships, I can't help but ask: What about love? Might it also be helpful for women to "lean in" to their love lives? I think so.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting we turn back the clocks to the 1950s, nor am I saying women should sacrifice their career ambitions for love, but why should women's forward motion in the working world have to come at the expense of finding love? There seems to be a growing mindset that a woman can't achieve in her professional life while simultaneously seeking personal fulfillment? Nothing could be further from the truth, yet some women, most notably in Leslie Bell's Atlantic article, feel ashamed about doing just that.
Does wanting love and a healthy, happy relationship as much as a challenging career signal weakness and dependency, as some women worry? I say no. And I think the bushels of successful career-women I know (lawyers, doctors, and investment bankers, oh my!) who worked simultaneously toward building both successful career and love lives (and who are now happily married) would say no, too. I don't believe these two very important facets of our lives need to be mutually exclusive.
While both journeys take effort and commitment, pursuing career and love can certainly occur side by side.
So I'm here to encourage women to lean in to love. Lean in to your love lives in the same way you excitedly choose to lean in to every other aspect of your life (career, hobbies, volunteering, athletics, etc.). Because the truth is we don't just happen upon love and a great relationship just as we don't just happen upon, say, leadership positions in the working world. The Hollywood rom-coms lead women to believe that love is something that occurs through luck or serendipity, but I believe, for the most part, you create your own luck, and the truth is you have to work towards creating healthy, happy love in your life. You have to work towards becoming a leader in your personal life in the same way you have to work towards becoming a leader in your professional life.
With that, here are three ways to lean in to your love life:
1. See dating and relationships as an opportunity for self-discovery and growth and not just a means to an end.
Dating and relationships are as much about self-discovery as are our professional pursuits. Women are encouraged to experiment in their career lives, supported when they fail, and encouraged to find out who they are through their work and through endless personality assessments (Myers Briggs, anyone?). That's all well and good, but I also believe we discover who we are through our romantic relationships and experiences. It is through these types of experiences, especially, that we discover ourselves because we are forced to hold up a mirror to our thoughts, behaviors, and responses, as much as or more so than a job might make us do. See the steps along your dating journey as purposeful. Don't just go through the dating motions, like a mindless dating zombie. Commit to learning about yourself through your dating and relationship adventures.
2. Just say yes!
Research has shown that when men are presented with an opportunity at work they typically say yes and then figure out what they have to do to deliver on that opportunity, whereas women typically want to know more details about what's involved before saying yes. In my own dating coaching business, I started to recognize that I did this frequently; it was out of fear more than anything else if I was being honest with myself. I pushed myself to change this mindset and the results have been awesome. I was recently presented with a really cool opportunity and instead of asking for details (as I might have done in the past because of the fear that maybe I couldn't deliver or wasn't smart enough to deliver), I just said yes. Leading up to the opportunity, I prepared like crazy, and I ultimately delivered kick-ass results.
The same goes for leaning in to your love life. Just say yes when opportunities present themselves or say yes to creating your own opportunities. Don't overanalyze or second-guess yourself or weigh the pros and cons. Just say yes and go from there. What did you learn by saying yes?
3. Form a dating/relationships "circle" (a "Love TREP circle")
Women are so willing to join Lean In career circles, yet, somewhere along the way, they have convinced themselves they need to go it alone when it comes to creating love in their lives. They put up rock-hard facades designed to show others they don't care about having love in their lives. They then isolate themselves, believing they need to gain mastery over their personal lives on their own.
While rugged individualism is celebrated in this country, it often works against women in many aspects of their lives. What's worse is women get angry at themselves for not being able to surmount challenges on their own. But when you're alone, your thinking can often be limited and myopic; listening to other people's suggestions and ideas may be eye-opening for you. Moreover, people are often more comfortable with decisions and intentions if they feel they get to first share their ideas and thoughts with others.
It's time we start sharing with each other that we do want a partner with whom we can share love and grow. It's time to start supporting each other in this area, to deconstruct together what's stopping us from having a better shot at finding love, rather than feeling like we're on our own and have to gab and guffaw about our unsatisfying trysts at Sunday brunch. While delivering a recent dating seminar for Match.com, I posed the idea of Love TREP dating/relationships circles and it was well-received by the ladies in attendance: "Why don't we get together more often and have these types of positive pow-wows about our love lives?" pondered one attendee.
So... how about you gather once a month with a bunch of friends (wine and takeout encouraged) and share your deepest desires and fears when it comes to matters of your hearts? How about you cry and laugh together in productive, empowering ways? How about discussing together constructive ways to move forward and to create the love you want? As I write in my book Skin In the Game: Unleashing Your Inner Entrepreneur to Find Love: "When it comes to relationships and love, I truly believe that single women don't talk enough with each other about their real fears and struggles not only because they don't want to appear vulnerable but also for fear of (gasp!) actually having to admit they really want to find love."
It's time to own up to the fact that you do want a loving relationship (if that is indeed what you want), to put a stake in the ground, to say it proudly to yourself and others, and to start living like you really mean it.
Invest in your love life, in your "dating and love venture," as I like to call it, in the same way you invest in your other ventures in life. To be sure, having a loving partner by your side can help you achieve even greater heights in your career. My husband has been my biggest supporter and cheerleader and has spurred me on (through countless pep talks and constant moral support) to accomplish great things professionally and to grow personally. The love he offers me has been one of the most positive forces in all aspects of my life.
Don't feel that your growth as a human being only comes from a career path; understand that your evolution also takes shape through your journey in love.
It's time to lean in to that journey.
Parts of this article have been adapted from Neely's book Skin In the Game: Unleashing Your Inner Entrepreneur to Find Love, which is now available for purchase.