LEAN BACK, NOT IN!!!

“Don’t lean back, lean in. Put your foot to that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That’s the only way, when that day comes, you’ll have a decision to make.”

Sheryl Sandberg- commencement address to Barnard College

Sheryl Sandberg is NOT helping the cause of adolescent girls and young women. In fact, her message is incredibly unhealthy. Let me explain.

In my upcoming book about girls: “Sleeping Beauties: Guiding Girls Through the Transformative Adolescent Years”,  I lay out an argument that we have been focusing on the wrong things when it comes to girls. For over 40 years, all we have heard about is that girls start losing their self esteems in middle school, and that they are depressed,  anxious,  cutting and suicidal at higher and higher rates. We have criticized, worried, pathologized, labelled and medicated girls, but we have lost sight of the forest for the trees.

And, we are missing the boat. Part of the reason is that girls are being conditioned by people like Mrs. Sandberg and the culture to live a life that is out of balance. We have way over-emphasized the more traditional qualities normally ascribed to men like competition, ambition, being the best, being willing to step on anyone to get to the top, and being aggressive.

Embracing some level of these archetypal masculine qualities is great for girls. The problem is that girls have lost sight of the more feminine qualities like connecting, having close relationships, nurturing yourself and others, feelings, intuition, and love. There is an imbalance of girl’s female and male energies, and I see it showing up in women in their mid- 20’s through 40 who are finding themselves far along their career paths but unhappy and unfulfilled.

The story of former Lehman Brothers CFO Erin Callan illustrates my points well. I’ll talk about her in a future blog.

The adolescent years are a time of transformation for girls. It is so important for them to consciously understand what this transformation entails. I DON’T want them to put their nose to the grindstone and have their whole growth stage be about straight A’s, being on the best club sports teams, padding their college resumes, getting into an elite college, and working 60-80 hour weeks at a high profile job.

The “sleeping” that Sleeping Beauty and Snow White experienced was a metaphor for undergoing the Heroine’s Journey. This journey involves growth and evolution, with the result being that girls transform from a girl to a women, a maiden to a matron. And they will have evolved to a higher level of consciousness.

That is what girls have missed because of the pedal-to-the-metal mentality so prevalent in our culture.

Girls need to “lean back”   a lot before they lean in. Otherwise they will become out of balance. If they don’t,  the choices they make will not REALLY be theirs; they are the unconscious messages  the culture has been feeding them about what they “should” do, and as Mrs. Sandberg states, these unhealthy messages are the  ONLY direction  girls should be headed for.

I vehemently disagree with that philisophy, and I hope you do to.

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  24. Tim, You have made some very interesting points, and I agree that it is important to look differently at how we encourage girls compared to how we support women. I don’t know that I want to say that they should lean out, nor do we want them to lean in aggressively. We certainly don’t want them stand still. As a former high school principal, I think the best path is to encourage them to explore who they are, work to build their confidence in every way possible, and allow them opportunities to learn and lead without pressure to be a particular type of person. I believe they also need to be aware of and explore the challenges they may face as women and as citizens of the world. Acceptance, encouragement and understanding may be the most valuable gifts we can give them.

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