For those who can’t access the links, Sandberg’s main points from her TED talk are these:
1. Sit at the table; own your own accomplishments. Studies have shown that for men, success and likability are positively correlated, whereas for women, success and likability are negatively correlated. Women need to attribute their own success to themselves, even though there is a risk of not being liked. In her Barnard speech, she says, “[But] I know that the truth comes out in the end, and I know how to keep my head down and just keep working.”
2. Make your partner a real partner. Women still do twice the housework and three times the childcare as men, even though they also are working outside the home. In homes where responsibility is equally shared, the divorce rate is halved. “It’s a bit counterintuitive, but the most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner, and who that partner is. If you pick someone who’s willing to share the burdens and the joys of your personal life, you’re going to go further.” (Side note: a recent article in Time magazine notes that women and men work about the same hours in the day, although women work more unpaid hours, i.e. in housekeeping and childcare. This is usually accomplished by the woman scaling back her paid hours.)
3. Don’t leave before you leave. It is so common for women, from the moment they even start thinking about having children, to start leaning back from their careers, sometimes without realizing it. “Keep your foot on the gas pedal until the very day you need to leave…and then make your decision,” says Sandberg.
I watch these videos of Ms. Sandberg, and wish she could have teleported herself through the last decade and shaken some sense back into the old college me. You see, I made the wrong career decision ten years ago, and the only reason was because I didn’t believe in myself. I became a nurse when I really wanted to become a physician. Even ten years ago, there was no question in my mind that I would have made a good physician, and no question in my mind that I would love, adore and provide for my future family. But I still feared becoming a mother in medicine.
So why didn’t I go for it? For years, my pat answer was that I wasn’t sure medicine was for me until I was well into my nursing career. Now that I can finally admit this to myself, I think the real reason went deeper than that. I chose nursing because I was afraid that if I chose medicine, my boyfriend might get cold feet, and I might emotionally damage my future children. I was afraid that medical school rejection could be the ultimate social suicide. I worried that my friends and family might judge me for “choosing career at the expense of my family” and turn their backs when I most needed their village around me. As Sandberg might say, I was simply afraid of not being liked—in the most extreme way.
But ten years later, I do have something else to say, and that is that I did go to medical school, I did marry my college sweetheart, and I do have two happy, well-adjusted children. I am surrounded by friends and family, and I have done well in school. The sky, in fact, has not fallen.
While I am so proud of the above accomplishments, I still find at times I still revert to my old ways. I apologize for everything—for taking 20 minutes to pump breastmilk on clerkships, for passing off daycare duty to my husband, for not knowing when I will get home. But here’s the kicker: I don’t actually feel bad about any of the above, and I don’t think anyone in my family even expects me to feel bad. They know it comes with the job. What I feel bad about is that I should feel bad and I don’t. It’s as if I’ve been conditioned to believe that worry is synonymous with love, and that constantly shortchanging myself is penance for wanting children.
This, to me, is the fundamental problem of women today. It seems like we have no faith in our social or professional supports to help us get done what we need to get done. We’d rather hide behind the façade of martyrdom than find a way to get what we need—and then we tell the next generation “I gave up my career because you can’t be a good doctor and a good mother” or “I had to work 100 hours per week, and that is the only way you can deserve this job.” And so we saddle the next generation of mothers in medicine with the baggage of choosing either success or likability. Again.
What if we women did something radical instead? What if we thought long and hard about what we really want and actually asked for it proudly? Maybe that means finally having “the talk” with your significant other. Maybe it means keeping the kids in daycare one more hour to get something important done. Maybe it means daring to ask for part time—or partner. Maybe it means saving your apologies for when you have actually done something wrong (and, ahem, it is not wrong to have a career and a family).
When I think of the two most radical things I have done in my life—applying early decision to medical school with a marginal MCAT score and asking the cute guy in my dorm to come swing dancing with me, I realize that they are two accomplishments of which I am most proud, because those risks have given me a thousand-fold return. What if, when it came to big decisions, we honored our id as much as we do our superegos? What if we not only made radical decisions but celebrated other women who dared to do the same?
I was a child in the 1980s, and the message to little girls was “you can be anything you want to be.” I still believe that. But I think our daughters need a stronger message: “You can be anything you want to be, on your own terms, and you deserve to be happy.” And when we live out this message, it won’t be in an aggressive, cold-hearted way, but rather our way—with kindness, creativity and collaboration.
I just got back from a U2 concert, and my ears are still ringing. The turning point in the concert for me was watching four men singing at the tops of their lungs:
“You don’t know
you don’t get it, do you?
You don’t know how beautiful you are!”
So ladies, strap on your boots. We are a new generation of mothers, and we are proud to have it all, and share with each other in our successes.
mamascrub @ gmail-dot-com