Sally O’Sullivan,

Mustang Copy

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Book Review: Lean In

Women, work and the will to lead. By Sheryl Sandberg

Factual and emotive, influential and inspiring: Sandberg’s account of women’s roles in the workplace through the ages is both interesting and, for all women, a little sad. The book recounts many real-life examples of sexism, persecution and subtle misogyny that both the author and her female peers experienced during their careers. Throughout the book, the current COO of Facebook identifies the obstacles to achieving full professional potential. She encourages women to be ambitious, to ignore limits – both those self-imposed and those inflicted by others, not to fear how they are perceived in pursuing their goals, and to lean in to opportunity at every level.

One section resonated with me in particular: the topic of risk versus comfort, and the right of every woman to reach out for what they want:

“Career progression often depends upon taking risks and advocating for oneself – traits that girls are often discouraged from exhibiting.

“Ask yourself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid? Then go do it.”

Wise words for those out there in the freelancing world. Sometimes, we must accept and embrace uncertainty in our professional lives to further our careers. As a female entrepreneur taking the leap from secure and structured employment to the sometimes complicated whirlwind of running my own business, I found this statement insightful and extremely helpful. It’s blindingly obvious that staying within your comfort zone is not going to help you further your career. So, sometimes you need to do things that make you feel uncomfortable or vulnerable in order to get ahead.

Judging by comments and conversation with others in a similar position, female freelancers or business owners can feel obscure within the mass of competition out there. But would our male counterparts experience this to the same degree? I doubt it. As Sheryl explains elsewhere:

“In addition to the external barriers erected by society, women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalise the negative messages we get throughout our lives – the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet.”

A call to action then, for both women and the men around them to be aware of this chasm between the sexes. We need to put the necessary measures in place to allow women to break even in the workplace and ensure they have the courage to perform well, to aim high, and to reach out.

Comfortingly, Sandberg reassures us that sometimes it’s okay not to strive for perfection, but instead just to manage to get everything done. In other works, aim for a sustainable and fulfilling career, rather than perfection in every area. Encouraging words for those (particularly in the PR world) who know that headless chicken feeling all too well!

The book also covers an increasingly well-known phenomenon: imposter syndrome, which many describe as feeling like a fraud. Both men and women are susceptible, but women seem to experience it more intensely and hence feel more limited. When praised for their accomplishments, instead of feeling worthy of recognition (as their male counterparts commonly would), the sufferer often feels undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being experts in their fields, they can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are – charlatans with limited skills or abilities.

Women are more likely to underestimate themselves. We are innately tough on ourselves and at the same time, have huge expectations. We need to recognise this trait, and realise that we are not alone in our feelings. This will help us to invalidate them and give us the courage and strength to do what’s necessary. The most important thing is to believe in ourselves. We ARE good enough, we DO have the skills, and we absolutely CAN do as good – if not better – a job as our colleagues. We must accept the credit we deserve.

Sandberg wrote the book to encourage women to dream big, forge a path, and achieve their full potential. I believe I’ve contributed a small part to the movement by building Mustang Copywriting, and I hope that many others will have the courage to take the leap in order to achieve their goals. In my case, it was both doing something I love and at which I’m very good (without having to do the accompanying tasks required in a PR role), and also the autonomy and independence of working for myself.

This is an excellent motivational and inspirational book to read at any stage in your career. Part feminist ideology, part mentorship: I defy anyone – male or female – not to feel inspired after reading this book. It provides an important vision and challenge for the future, in particular for those of you with who wake each weekday with that inexorable sinking feeling that you’d literally rather do anything else in the world other than spend a day at your desk doing a job you hate! If your job is not your calling in life, or you know you can aim higher and achieve more elsewhere, don’t be afraid! It’s all out there for those who dare, but you have to take the risk.

Lean in, take a deep breath and make the big, scary leap into a better future. Opportunities are rarely offered, they’re seized, so go out and grab them…

Need a copywriter? Discover the 5 Profitable Powers of Persuasive People: Everything You Should Know Before You Hire Your Marketeer