Sheryl Sandberg’s group has a tumblr, “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?” It’s been up and running for a while, so yes, I admit I am a bit late to the LeanIn party.
But here I am. I watched the video about the campaign, or movement. A lot of women, expressing things I’ve thought, and felt, in different ways and at different times. Here’s what I might contribute (if I weren’t afraid?):
- If I weren’t afraid (and annoyed by a choir director) I would have pursued a skill when I was much, much younger. I got some pipes, you see. If I had worked at it, pursued it, and stood up to the choir director who insisted on having me sing soprano because I could, even though I knew (and she totally knew) I had a broader range, I think I could have, at the very least, with a lot of luck and abject (though temporary) poverty, been a moderately successful backup singer. Or, you’d be singing along to me, alone, right now on the radio, or in the shower. Who knows. Stranger vocalists have been stuck in my head.
- If I weren’t afraid, I would have gone into some serious debt and attended Columbia University for my graduate degree. But I said no. I hated the thought of being in debt, living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I remained in Madison, Wisconsin, (nothing to sneeze at!). If I had gone, it stuns me how different things might have been: the job, the home base, the family? All I can think, though, is that I wouldn’t have had our specific kids. (That doesn’t just stun me. It slays me.)
- If I weren’t afraid, I would tell everybody I knew that I am the fastest editor, the fastest processor of information, the quickest wit, the quickest study, the best-est everything when it comes to any topic I remotely care about. (I care about a lot of topics.) I would tell them this, because it is true. Instead, I show them, perhaps too quietly, but perhaps more effectively than just using my voice (pretty as it is). (I tend to trust a person based on what they do and show, versus what they say and intend, don’t you?)
I appreciate what Ms. Sandberg is trying to cultivate among women. I do. Being afraid because of what you’ve been conditioned to accept (don’t be ‘bossy,’ be ‘nice,’ be ‘likable’)–that’s unacceptable. We’ve got to get over that, just on principle.
I for one, am over that. If I think there’s a good way to do something, I will say so. I’ll do it as nicely as I can. If you don’t like me, I probably don’t like you, either. I like most people. Most like me.
A friend of mine, my age (43) has just relocated from the midwest to the Rockies, because his wife got a great job. They just upped and moved. I was very, very impressed.
I could do that, you know. I could tell my husband, “Hey, I want to go and pursue a dual career, singing at night and writing and editing political commentary by day, so we need to move to either New York, DC, or London.” He would do that. He said so.
That floors me. I think, “I can’t do that. We have to save, we have to have a six-if-not-12-month cash reserve, we have to sell this house and absorb a likely loss (damn you, housing bubble!), we have two children who should be able to enter college without assuming soul-crushing debt, we could have a health emergency, we could have some other emergency I haven’t yet thought of…”
The list goes on.
“Go do it.” Just go do whatever you’re afraid of, intones Ms. Sandberg.
That’s brilliant, right? I watch that video (linked above) and I just want to roar with confidence. I do, I’m not snarking, here, I promise.
Thing is, it’s not a lack of will that is keeping me from doing what I want and being all I can be. I am not afraid of “doing.” I am wary of the impact and costs of my actions, not on and for me, but on and for others.
Ms. Sandberg is creating a movement assuming our fear, our womanly insecurities, drive us, or hold us back. They don’t. We are not suffering from a collective crisis of confidence.
But it sure sounds that way, when you ask a certain question.
So maybe the question to pose is not “What would you do if you were not afraid?” It’s not even, if we follow the risk assessment line of thinking, “What would you do if you had nothing to lose?” (There’s no shame, no weakness, in wanting to protect and maintain what you have, especially if you don’t have all that much. That’s what they call “rational.”)
The question(s) to ask women, the answers to which would be more instructive–and less, dare I say, though many already have, woman-blaming:
“What is at stake when you consider change? Who can help you lower the stakes? Who can help them?”
You know, health insurance companies, and our soon-to-be-in-use health exchanges (not a tangent, bear with me), they don’t just assume more risk. They want to dilute their risk pool with people that have a lot of “health.”
This social movement, this women’s movement, that Ms. Sandberg wants to maintain or accelerate? It seems, superficially, four or so months in, to be comprised of lots of women who have, relatively, little to risk, or far less at stake.
Ms. Sandberg is, in fact, brilliant. She’s created a low-risk operation with a high rate of return.
I wonder what Ms. Sandberg would do for other women if she had far less at stake.