Back when I was pregnant with my daughter, I sat down with my InterVarsity supervisor and assured her that not much would change about my staff-life after this first child of mine was born. I got this, I said.
What I needed was a hefty dose of reality, but she knew that was coming for me soon enough, since my due date was around the corner.
Instead this mother of two was patient with my naivety, stating from experience quite the opposite; that work life will NEVER be quite the same after having children. Sure enough about a month after Evangeline was born I found myself on the phone with her, probably crying, and most certainly tired, overwhelmed and a roller coaster of emotion (does that roller-coaster ever stop by the way?).
This gracious, wise woman who was both minister and mother didn’t come at me with a whip, or a reprimand or an eye-roll, but with a brilliant suggestion. She advised that for the remainder of the semester, I spend my time on campus investing only in the relationships and activities that were the most life-giving for me and that would help me feel the most connected to the ministry without adding too much stress or burden.
It was advice such as this that made it possible for me to navigate working and motherhood for those years. I am thankful that I was with a Christian ministry that acknowledged that I wasn’t just a hired, robotic worker, but that I was a whole person.
I was a disciple of Christ on my own faith journey with unique fears, gifts and passions.
I had emotional, physical, and spiritual needs that didn’t vanish when I entered my ‘paid’ hours.
And now, I was a mother. This changed who I was, my capacities and my priorities.
Being able to communicate my current needs and struggles (through sobs, of course) and having a boss on the receiving end value that, is absolutely priceless.
Chapter five of Lean In starts off simple enough by validating the need for this authentic communication in the workplace. But my girl Sheryl really broadens the scope of what ‘authentic communication’ means and can look like, and how this is good news for women.
1) Honesty. Duh, right? Sandberg shares some areas where she has failed in this and also times when she has simply had bad ideas at work, and her employees have needed to bring this to her attention for the benefit of the company. (FYI Her candor regarding her weaknesses and vulnerability throughout the book is awesome).
A friend once told me that ‘ministry is a series of difficult conversations’ but that mantra can be applied to lots of work scenarios and even personal relationships. I needed to admit to my supervisor, on several occasions, that I was struggling with my work and until I was honest the situation couldn’t improve. Likewise I have had to have some very hard conversations with students, bringing truth that I knew would hurt them, but it had to happen. Alternatively, there have been times that I have had to sit and swallow some really tough feedback. It hurts!
Honesty is such a simple principle, such a necessary one, but putting it into practice is possibly one of the hardest things to do. Putting it into practice well is even harder.
For women who don’t want to be perceived as unable to keep up in a man’s world, too demanding or too problematic this can be a huge stumbling block. But many women are underpaid, have very little support, or simply have brilliant ideas and need to authentically communicate for changes to be made.
2) Emotion. Oh Sheryl. Sheryl, Sheryl, Sheryl. You are such a woman after my own heart.
Many women believe – and research suggests – that it is not a good idea to cry at work. It is never something that I plan to do and is hardly recommended in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but on those rare occasions when I have felt really frustrated, or worse, betrayed, tears have filled my eyes.
She narrates a time she broke down in tears in a meeting with her boss Mark Zuckerberg, he offered a hug of comfort and compassion, and BAM! It was a breakthrough moment for them and their work relationship.
Sharing emotions builds deeper relationships. Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about. To really care about others, we have to understand them…recognizing the role emotions play and being willing to discuss them makes us better managers, partners and peers.
Preach it Sister Sheryl, preach it.
I have to say this approach is so refreshing. I don’t want every day to be a mushy gushy cry-fest or toss self-control out the window, but pretending I don’t have emotions, and that they don’t ever come into play at work is silly and possibly even denying the fact that, gasp, women are emotional! If we are going to show up to work, let’s show up as God created us.
Some things that could warrant their own blog post in this area might be:
Emotional manipulation – I never want to use my emotions to get my way. Not saying that I haven’t ever. But that is not the standard I set for myself.
Second, is exercising some wisdom and caution in relationships with members of the opposite sex. I value intimacy. I value hugs. I LOVE hugs. I love working with both men and women. My own husband counsels and meets with many women on a regular basis. But we both know that there is a line and even though bringing our emotions to the table and growing in love and compassion is so beautiful, we have to be careful as well.
Anyone want to write those?
3) The Whole Person
It has been an evolution, but I am now a true believer in bringing our whole selves to work. I no longer think people have a professional self for Mondays through Fridays and a real self for the rest of the time. That type of separation probably never existed, and in today’s era of individual expression, where people constantly update their Facebook status and tweet their every move, it makes even less sense. Instead of putting on some kind of fake “all-work persona”, I think we benefit from expressing our truth, talking about personal situations, and acknowledging that professional decisions are often emotionally driven.
I really enjoyed several of her anecdotes in this chapter, one of my favorites was about an acquaintance who was a partner in a prestigious law firm when her 7 month old baby was diagnosed with a rare syndrome. By bringing her real life situation to work her partners were able to offer compassion and be reminded that she isn’t just a bad ass lawyer, but also a wife and a mother and a daughter and a sister. Not only this, but she also paved the way to create a culture of flexible hours at the firm which benefits men and women when illness and tragedy hits. I remember sharing with the directors of the school I worked at that I had just had a second miscarriage and they listened with love and compassion. As I went on to have both my children while still teaching there, I felt an extra measure of love and support from them.
We do a disservice to ourselves as complex human beings to think we can so easily compartmentalize work and home.
Sheryl closes the chapter like this
Maybe someday shedding tears in the workplace will no longer be viewed as embarrassing or weak, but as a simple display of authentic emotion. And maybe the compassion and sensitivity that have historically held some women back will make them more natural leaders in the future.
Women do so much. We raise children. We keep homes. We stay up nights and pump at work and sacrifice and bring forth life. We work in every field imaginable. We have deep faith. And we have voices that need to be heard because they are voices of blessing, voices of wisdom and intelligence, voices of truth and beauty, voices of experience and voices of change.
So, my sisters, seek and speak your truth!