By now, there are few people in on earth who haven't heard of the Lean In movement that Sheryl Sandberg has launched. Sandberg's manifesto, Lean In is bringing women and the organizations to their feet, to stand up and take measure of the amazing impact that women have in the work force every day. Sandberg encourages women to lean into their work, to not leave before they leave, to engage fully. I know what it is like to lean in to work, to a career, to own it.
I started working when I was 16 all through summers and weekend but never after school as that was saved for sports and activities. I graduated early from college and went right to work. At 23, I started my own company and sold it at 26. I went on to a series of corporate executive jobs with a few entrepreneurial stints thrown in. I had three children by the time I was 36 and I kept working. I was 100 percent responsible for supporting my family so I kept working. Sometimes, I felt like I was leaning in so far to my work that I couldn't see my toes. Sometimes, I fell over but I got back up and kept working. I never thought of leaving because it wasn't an option.
Until it was. Then I couldn't think of anything else but leaving. I kept mental lists of the things I would do when I stopped working. I created a two-year plan to get to the place where I could stop working. Suddenly, I experienced that dissonance that Sandberg describes when you are not really all in. I had started to Lean Out as if I was sailing, using my body to ballast the boat skimming across the water. Still working, still moving forward, but letting the boat carry all the effort. It was my reputation that showed up for work every day. I was already gone, not tending my unborn, but tending to my parents, my sprouting young adult children and my ever-burgeoning list of places I wanted to travel to, things I wanted to do.
But I couldn't stop working, yet. A career takes on a powerful momentum of its own after awhile. It is hard to separate oneself from one's work. As I talk with colleagues, work associates, family and friends, there is a uniform fear about ending one's work life. My dad's terminal illness served as a forcing factor, to get me from "Lean In" to "Lean Out." So I quit full time work at age 54. According to Social Security, I have worked for 38 years. I'm not completely done. I advise CEOs, I recruit senior talent, I do the occasional project for friends, but that is part of my Life 2.0 plan. What David Brooks refers to as being in the "Active Retirement" stage, I think of as the moment when my life has balance for the very first time.
Perhaps I am part of a generation of women -- the second generation of working women -- who didn't need a book or a circle to tell us to lean in. In order to be successful in what was still a man's world, we had no other choice. We had to be all in -- in all aspects of our lives. Now it is time for us to lean out a bit, to let our daughters and sons step forward, to maximize this stage of our lives. I invite the women of my generation to join me, not in a movement organized in circles, but independently, each in our own way, with our rhythm to Lean Out. To Lean Out is not to leave your working life completely behind, it is not about full retirement. It is about stepping away from the momentum of your career in order to find your own balance, your own direction and your life 2.0.