Gaining Confidence by Leaning In
A couple of years ago I sat on a plane with my kids, crying out in confidence, “Buon giorno!” and “Molto bene” in my best Godfather voice. It was our first trip to Italy, and I planned to fully immerse myself in the experience. Ed and Maggie, in their own quieter way, also recognized the momentous nature of the trip.
Or if they didn’t then, they sure did 24 hours later. From the window of our hotel room in Rome, we watched in stunned surprise as the papal carriage pulled up to the cathedral across the street. Out stepped Pope Francis himself to say Mass to hundreds of worshippers filling the streets, all stretched out like a carpet of heads.
That same feeling of mute awe came over us again when we visited the Colosseum, an image my kids have only seen in textbooks, and the Sistine Chapel, as we gazed up at the brushstrokes of Michelangelo. These are experiences, I found, that must be digested in silence. Just imagining a stonemason in 70 AD building the platform beneath my feet, or an artist conjuring such vivid scenes with his neck craned back, suspended 60 feet above ground … well, words failed me.
But that rarely happens for long.
Before we left for Italy I had just finished reading Lean In, author and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg asserts that women in the workforce need to speak out more. Of the 190 heads of state, only nine are women, and Sandberg says it’s because women fail to really lean in and take their place at the table. Instead we stay quietly in the background, either because we lack confidence or we doubt our own ability to multitask work and family.
After the book came out Sandberg faced a seismic-scale backlash, not just from indignant SAHMs (stay at home moms) but also many feminist writers who say Sandberg comes off too harsh on women and too easy on institutional sexism.
That’s not my takeaway. I think Sandberg’s rally cry of confidence to women can and perhaps should be applied more liberally.
3 main points:
- Ditch the excuses. If only we lived in a world without bias where everyone got a fair turn, but we don’t. Women (and men I would say) need to get over that and succeed anyway.
- Believe in yourself. Sandberg maintains the great disparity between the sexes lies not in capability but rather confidence. Too often women phrase statements as questions and, when complimented, deflect credit instead of simply saying thanks.
- Lean in. Whatever your aspiration, a corner office or a big family or both, go at it with unbridled enthusiasm. Be passionate and make your voice heard.
Before we even landed, I began urging my kids to use the smattering of Italian phrases we practiced. Ask for directions in Italian, I’d tell them; order food in Rome the way Romans do. It took a few hesitant stabs, each of which the Italians met with smiles and encouragement, before they finally gained some confidence. And by the end of the trip, they too were calling out “Bon giorno!” with gusto.
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short;
but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.”
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