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Leaning…Out

women tech

Today’s guest post is from my friend and colleague at Kronos, Laura Souza.   Laura, a high performing professional, also has two young daughters at home.  The following is her reaction to the furor over Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, and her reflection on what it means to be deliberate about our work-life choices.  Because climbing the ladder has consequences…

Much has been written in the last month about the launch of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In. For anyone who has been living under a rock, Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and former executive at Google, a billionaire heavy hitter in male-dominated Silicon Valley.

DISCLAIMER: I have not read Sandberg’s book yet, but in all the coverage of the book that I have read and in the 60 Minutes interview she gave, one point seems to have been entirely missed. It’s not just women who “lean back” from there careers – men do it too. I know this because I was raised by one.

My dad worked, and worked hard, for more than 30 years for what we referred to in our house as, “the phone company” – depending on the year, it was New England Telephone, NYNEX, Bell Atlantic, or Verizon. He commuted 1-2 hours every day into Boston from the suburban town in New Hampshire where we lived and he felt strongly the responsibility of providing for his family. BUT, he was home every night for dinner.

When I was young enough to still have stories read to me at bedtime, it was often my dad who did the reading. My favorite nights were when rather than read he would tell me stories about the fictional character he invented named Bruce Long who was always “embellishing” (a word I learned from my dad around the age of 5) his daily adventures. It would be up to me to determine what Bruce had actually done to inspire his tall tale.

As we got older, my dad still focused on getting home for family dinners. He would ask my brother and me trivia questions, talk to us about politics and sports, tell us about what happened in his day and ask us about ours. After dinner he would help us with our homework, or, in the summers when we didn’t have homework, he’d often take us outside to, somewhat competitively I may add, play wiffel ball or basketball or whatever sport we felt like doing.

When my brother and I were in grade school, my dad was offered a big promotion. It would have meant moving to White Plains NY. Ultimately, he and my mom decided that they didn’t want to uproot their family and their kids, and so my dad turned down the promotion in order to provide more stability for us. He wasn’t bitter about it and my brother and I never really knew the details until we were much older. In my dad’s mind, choosing the happiness of his kids over the advancement of his career was just part of being a good dad.

When I was in high school, my dad started working from a regional office in Manchester NH one or two days a week. It gave him a break from commuting, but more importantly to him, it also meant that he was able to attend the sporting events that my brother and I were involved in. He was often one of the few dads watching.

There’s no doubt in my mind that my dad could have risen higher in his organization and probably made more money, if he “leaned in” to his career more. But what would he have missed?

Australian palliative nurse Bonnie Ware, in a social media post that went viral about a year ago, revealed the top 5 regrets of the dying and number 2 on the list was “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” Noted Ware, “This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

And that, for me, is the bottom line about leaning in – for men and women. I agree that we need more women in leadership positions at every level of society and I am incredibly grateful to those women who strive for and achieve those positions. They are doing important work. But I don’t envy them. I always think that maybe someday when my children are grown (they are right now 2 and ½ and 4) I’ll log more hours in the office, or look to get involved in more causes, or pursue membership on a corporate board. But for now, I want to be there to hear about what happened at preschool, volunteer in their classrooms, eat dinner as a family, and put them to bed – just like my mom – and my dad – did for me.

What choices have you made about career vs. life?

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8 Comments Post a comment
  1. That made me a little verklempt, Laura. Thank you for sharing your story. About this time of year 16 years ago, I was offered a 45% increase for my position… across the country in Sacramento. Maybe my boss thought he had to make the offer, and although a nice gesture, it was a non-starter. I was newly divorced, and the father… no, the dad of young children. There was no way I was leaving them, and I have no regrets. Well, except when the snow exceeds 18″, which this winter was twice.

    March 14, 2013
  2. What a beautiful tribute, Laura.

    March 14, 2013
  3. Marguerite Reilly #

    Beautiful words Laura. I hope your Dad gets to read them. I have to say we are always happy when we see your name on the parent volunteer list! Glad you enjoy coming in and spending time with us. Keep up the good work- in all the areas of your life!

    March 14, 2013
  4. Excellent post, Laura, and on behalf of dads (like me) thank you for writing it.

    Your father’s efforts are surely ones to emulate, something I try to do every day for my kids as I balance the demands of my job, my career aspirations, and my desire to be a good husband and loving dad.

    I don’t have a viewpoint on Sheryl Sandberg’s advice “Lean In.” But I’ll give you mine: You can lean in, or lean out. I think the idea is that if you want a balanced, happy life, you’re always leaning in some direction.

    March 15, 2013
  5. Carol Nowakowski #

    Laura, I enjoyed reading your story. I was fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom working part time until our youngest of 3 was a freshman in high school. That time was very precious and I realize how lucky I was. Working moms have incredibly busy lives these days and you have struck a great balance for yourself and your family. I’m certain you will not regret your choices.

    March 15, 2013
  6. Jim Durning #

    Sounds like a heck of a guy. He helped raise two terrific people. Thanks for sharing.

    March 16, 2013

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