Monthly Archives: June 2013

Can you lean in if you’re over 40?

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I just finished “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg yesterday and was pleasantly inspired by it. I had heard a few things that made me think I might not like it (perspectives on children, HR practices, an emphasis on careerism at the expense of family). My reading was a good reminder not to rely on the reviews of others in evaluating a book. And with that: here is, not a review, but a reflection.

The main argument I took away was the encouragement to be honest about what work I want to do, and to pursue it actively. Her examples of how women can hold themselves back from challenging careers did not feel like “blame the victim” to me: they felt very true and important to reflect on. It made me wonder about times I’ve held myself back from challenging work, which I think was more of a challenge in my education than career. Unfortunately, lack of challenging myself educationally definitely has a career impact. I also realized how significant negotiation skills are to all aspects of work – including the work I want to do – and am inspired to develop mine.

In terms of what work this might inspire me to do, I also appreciated three key reminders: that I will have a long life beyond children and so might as well build up a challenging and exciting career to enjoy; that the example I set for my daughter of doing work I love is more important than I’ve given it credit for; and that the more I advance in my career and become well-positioned, the more flexibility and opportunities I will have. Even with all the emphasis on pursuing a career, I loved that she very consciously positioned herself as respectful of varied lifestyle choices, and I actually believed her. Her arguments about men’s responsibilities, and about the need for systemic changes in support of eliminating gender biases, were also meaningful.

So, can I lean in at my age? Sort of. I don’t believe I can, at this point, achieve the career success I might have if I had engaged more actively at a younger age. And my personal beliefs about time with young children make it more challenging to put the time into a career. And, my location: not exactly a hot spot for career advancement! However, the example Sandberg offers of her mother is very encouraging in that it shows that people of all backgrounds, of all ages, can make a decided, positive, significant impact on their world if they choose to do so. I do choose that, and am thrilled with the advice in this book that can move me forward towards whatever work I pursue.

 

Clarification and Update

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After some comments from friends and family, I realized that I probably should clarify one important point in my last post. I guess I was not 100% honest with you, my wonderful readers.

I wasn’t fired. I was terminated. Or rather, my position was eliminated and my employment with the university was terminated as a result.

There! Doesn’t that sound better?

Frankly, I would rather use the F-word. It feels more honest and true to what I’ve just experienced. It must be my father in me, wanting to call something by the most blunt name there is. I also have nothing to be ashamed of, and I dislike cushioning myself in euphemisms.

However, the F-word also implies that there was some justification for the human resources decision made by the institution, and, in fact, there wasn’t. My employment ended “without cause”; my offer letter makes this point clear; and I can get a good reference from my employer as I look for more work. And I understand that within this environment, these things matter. Sigh! Just call me “laid off” and laid back about it.

In any case, I went back to work Monday to meet with someone from HR. He’s a colleague: we’ve worked on joint presentations together over the past 2 years, and I think this experience was substantially more awkward for him than for me. He took me through the University’s offer, helped me pack up my things, and gave me a good-bye hug.

I also connected with my work/study student, who will be retained and supervised from the other campus through the summer. He has been completely lovely through this process, very supportive and encouraging.

And now I have a bit of time to consider the offer, see if there are questions I have or points to clarify, as I continue my days with my daughter (yesterday: granola, baked potatoes, monkeys jumping on the bed and cutting new bunny ears for her puppet). My initial priority is my to do list and creating order in the house, then tackling future considerations.