I’m at my son’s cello lesson, thinking about this week’s Time magazine. Sheryl Sandberg’s on the cover.

I never used to write about women on my blog. I wrote for three national magazines about careers before I even acknowledged that I was a woman aside from saying

1. I got the column because I was a woman running tech companies. (Rare back then.)

2. I got a promotion because I leveraged the sexual harassment my boss dished out in order to climb the ladder (around him).

Other than that, I tried very hard to not mention women. I could see that women who had kids got very little respect at the office and I stayed away from them. I only hired men. Even after I had kids, I only worked with men.

Now I’ve downshifted, and I’m home with my kids. I tried to make it not a big deal that I downshifted. I kept saying that I was going to launch a new startup. But then I found myself literally scared to death of going back to 100-hour weeks.

I write that: 100-hour weeks, and I almost don’t believe it. Because it would mean that I was literally never with my kids. But it’s true.

One of the nannies I had during that period still sees my oldest son. She is one of those professional nannies—she always works for women with huge jobs, and she couldn’t stay with me after I cut back to 60 hours a week.

She and my older son are still very close. I was having ice cream with the two of them and she started talking about a family that had a bunny and the bunny was lonely and needed a friend, but they couldn’t just buy another bunny. You have to introduce the new bunny to the old bunny to see if they are friends.

So I said, “Did it work out?”

She said, “What? Don’t you remember? It was your house! The bunny was eating the carpet and right before we brought the second bunny, your bunny died.”

I don’t remember. I do remember that we had a five-bedroom house that I didn’t have time to furnish so we bought animals for each room: the bunny room, the cat room, the ferret room, etc. (You can see why I ended up with a farmer.)

What I am trying to tell you is that you really  do not see your kids if you have a very big job.

So I’m sitting in a cello lesson taking notes on measure sixteen even though I don’t read music. And I’m terrified every time my son finishes a song ahead of schedule because it means we’re one day closer to having to make the eight-hour trip to cello lessons three days a week instead of two.

I can’t stop thinking about Time magazine. Sheryl Sandberg is such an incredibly aberrant example of women at work that I just don’t get how she’s on the cover. She is great. Smart. Driven. I get it. I am doing a life that she would hate. I thought I was a high performer, but Sheryl Sandberg has no time for people like me. I spent so many years working hard to get to the top, but the truth is that I’m not even close. I was never in the running. I am nothing like Sheryl Sandberg.

My friend sent a link to me about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Actually, it’s about Jacqueline Reses. Mayer runs products and services at Yahoo. Reses runs everything else. So the edict for no telecommuting came down at Yahoo signed by both of them. Reses lives in New York City with her husband, Matthew Apfel, who has a big job at CORE Media Group, and her three, school-aged kids. And she commutes to Yahoo’s offices in California. Sunday night she goes to California and Friday she flies home. No telecommuting for her.

Which drives home to me that the women at the very top all do not see their kids. We just don’t hear about it. Why would we? Why would they talk about about it? It doesn’t help their career and it doesn’t help their kids.

I can’t get angry about these women. I just need to remember that I am not close to being able to compete with them. The high performers in corporate life are so much more focused than everyone else in the workforce that it’s time we stopped selling a false bill of goods; almost no one can be so singularly focused to get to the top of anything. Including corporate America. Yet we keep talking to kids and each other like anyone can do it.

Most kids cannot have huge jobs. They will be the workplace equivalent of intramural basketball players. When they grow up, they will find work that is fine, just like it’s fine to play on a team with the kid across the hallway even though he misses too many lay-ups.

Sheryl Sandberg gives up her kids like movie stars give up food: she wants a great career more than anything else.

You know all the stuff people write about how really skinny women in magazines makes girls feel anxious and not worthy? Do you know how women lose weight for the Oscars? They want to have a great Hollywood career more than anything else. That’s what seeing Sheryl Sandberg on the cover of Time magazine does to me. Do you know what I want more than anything else? For people to think I’m doing well. In my career.

You can kill me now. Because I hate when I coach women who tell me they want the world to see them as a successful in their career. I tell them, “Well, you’re not doing all that well, because you made choices that did not get you a very good career. But you have other things.”

I tell people this so easily on a coaching call. And many women cry. I understand. Respect is always relative. It’s like money, there’s always someone who gets more. There’s always someone who makes the amount you have look like nothing.

Most women are past the idea that they measure themselves by money. But women are instead using respect as our measuring tool, which is just as dangerous. Because respect is relative, we don’t control it completely, and it doesn’t come along with choosing the job of raising kids.

145 replies
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  1. Nigel
    Nigel says:

    Career commitment is a long-term investment – but so is raising kids (sorry, Alexis, I can’t agree that there’s no pride in the achievement of that …) And there are many women (I’m married to one!) who disprove the assertion that it has to be a binary choice.

  2. channa
    channa says:

    If Sandberg had chosen her kids over her career no one would know who she is or care what she has to say. You’ve chosen your kids and you are able to make that choice interesting, provocative and compelling to think about. I pick you out of my RSS feed before even Tyler Cowen who has all the best stuff. I’m sure it’s hard not to be working but you’ve turned it into something great for your readers.

  3. Isela
    Isela says:

    Pure Poetry!

    I watched her interview for 60 minutes, and it was like eating vanilla ice cream : did to a thing for me.

    When you try so hard to prove you can do something, maybe is because you try to convince yourself of that.

  4. Nadia
    Nadia says:

    I watched a portion of Sheryl Sandberg’s interview on 60 minutes and she’s one helluva lady. You can’t dislike her at all.

    My only grievance is that she’s making the case for women to see themselves as “leaders” and I’m tired of this two-dimensional way to see women as leaders. we’re either on the top or we’re on the bottom.

    there are so many more ways to lead now that it’s 2013!! i see women lead everyday – in non-career related ways. which makes me feel like Sandberg’s just propelling old unrealistic standards that being anywhere but the top is an underselling of your skills and talents.

    there are so many nontraditional ways to make money these days – that don’t require you to abandon your kids, wear business attire all the time, or even go to post secondary school!

    This blog is a living proof that women can create wealth off nontraditional sources of work. I guess “Sheryl” is nontraditional but her advice is not.

  5. Dannielle
    Dannielle says:

    There is something very wrong with turning every scenario into binary code. It’s always “50 shades of gray” (O, forgive me!)

    Every parent works. Stay at home mothers sometimes ignore their kids even more than working ones do. I think I was guilty of that when mine were young.

    You can’t change who you are so just roll with it. I am an ENTJ. It’s a very definite personality type – larger than life. It doesn’t exactly match being domestic and mother-y. So the heck what?

    Live your life, accept yourself, teach the kids to accept themselves in turn. The world would have a lot less baggage.

  6. Gerry
    Gerry says:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1583918175/?tag=ptrunk-20

    Why Love Matters explains why love is essential to brain development in the early years of life, particularly to the development of our social and emotional brain systems, and presents the startling discoveries that provide the answers to how our emotional lives work.

    Sue Gerhardt considers how the earliest relationship shapes the baby’s nervous system, with lasting consequences, and how our adult life is influenced by infancy despite our inability to remember babyhood. She shows how the development of the brain can affect future emotional well being, and goes on to look at specific early ‘pathways’ that can affect the way we respond to stress and lead to conditions such as anorexia, addiction, and anti-social behaviour.

    Why Love Matters is a lively and very accessible interpretation of the latest findings in neuroscience, psychology, psychoanalysis and biochemistry. It will be invaluable to psychotherapists and psychoanalysts, mental health professionals, parents and all those concerned with the central importance of brain development in relation to many later adult difficulties.

    This is a really interesting book for people who want to understand how people like Sandberg and her male equivalents can do the things they do and neglect their kids.

  7. YamfuJA
    YamfuJA says:

    So, I’ve been reading (and enjoying) your blog for a while now, and I have never commented. I have deep respect for your take on things, even when I don’t agree. But I must say, I am quite confused by your take on Sandberg’s message. I don’t see her as ambition shaming at all. I think her message is alot more nuanced than that. Every woman, can’t and doesn’t want to be at the very top of their careers, but we have to acknowledge the ways in which we hold ourselves back (societal barriers aside) from reaching our personal peaks. Some of these things (speaking up etc.) may seem really obvious to certain personality types, but they still factor as ways in which women get in their own way.

    Furthermore, if more women don’t get to the top of the political and corporate game, the game will remain the same. 100 hr work weeks may be necessary for some, but the restructuring of the workplace, that requires INTERNS! to work 1000 hr weeks for little or no pay….its ridiculous. Its not just that women don’t want to do it, men don’t want to do it either. They just think they have to. I have seen, first hand, how women have influenced positive change in the workplace, but they need to be in positions of power to do so.

    While we’re advocating for societal change, we also have to make our demands through our personal actions. Finding and pursuing a purpose and passion outside of the home, should be a right for both men and women. Men will shirk household responsibilities until women take full ownership of their rights.

    I know its all pretty basic. That’s why i’m pretty confused by these reactions to Sandberg’s message. Isn’t it the same basic message in a different wrapping?

    Even if she did have to sacrifice seeing her children, i don’t see where she is telling other women to make that choice. This is the same woman who gets home everyday, in time for dinner. I think she is trying to get more women to the top of their game to change the game….not to torture them.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think you are hearing from hundreds of people who have jobs that require half the effort of Sandberg’s job, and they have no time left for their kids.

      So no one who has a job and kids is believing for a second that Sandberg is with her kids every night. (In fact, she says in the Time magazine article that when neither she nor her husband can have dinner with the kids, they go to her sister’s house.)

      The issue is honesty: It’s great that Sandberg wants to show other women how to be like her. But then she needs to do full disclosure about how much time she spends with her kids.

      We have very clear data that shows most women are not gunning for the top position because they want to spend time with their kids. Which means that if Sandberg wants to be a role model she needs to very clearly address that issue for women. To that end, it’s incredible to me that she would not disclose to Time magazine how many nannies she has.

      Please note: I’m not saying whether this is good or bad for her kids. I don’t know. But I know that most women with kids don’t want to work as many hours as Sandberg works.

      Penelope

  8. Yadgyu
    Yadgyu says:

    Kids really are not that important. Sure, people matter. But kids do not need loads and loads of love and attention to be successful. They adapt to whatever circumstances they grow up in.

    Stop spoiling your children. If you want a high-powered career, go for it. Your kids will not really care one way or the other. They just deal with it and life goes on.

  9. Maureen Sharib
    Maureen Sharib says:

    I just read this.

    If it’s any consolation, I thought of you when I saw that Time cover and her wholesomer-than-thou appearances on TV all week.

    I’m not surprised at your reaction. I was a little worried about you.

    I think it’s a cruel, unforgivable and fraudulent act to set someone like Sandberg out as a role model for women – it’s just as bad as the magazines featuring impossibly thin models (who wants to give up food, anyway?)

    Someone needs to have their head examined if they fall for what the male oligarchy in this country is trying to pull – another shameless attempt to make women feel unworthy.

    I saw a tweet come across a little while ago today:

    3 Reasons Why Men Should Read Lean In http://tinyurl.com/cvmodlc
    (an article in the Harvard Business Review)

    My tweet back?
    Let me guess. 1st one: Know thy enemy?

  10. Liz
    Liz says:

    That’s ok. I’m an INFP and I had to almost take the equivalent to read my (some of which is controversial) email today (which I still haven’t read). It’s fine.

  11. MJ
    MJ says:

    I guess the more I read about Sandberg, or this blog, the more I wonder “who cares about big careers?” Because I’m in law and finance, and those jobs are always pretty tedious – who the hell would want more of them? Or of anything in accounting, to speak of hellacious work areas? Why would anyone want any of that? Geezus, people, just get your own businesses, those and creative careers are (IMO) the only things worth wanting work-wise.

  12. Judy
    Judy says:

    Reading these posts with my non-American eyes, I am struck by how people in your culture are driven by a powerful dream of somehow “making it”. Also, there is such an emphasis on the individual, creating the perfect mix for stress, loneliness etc. Would be great to inject a different (e.g. Buddhist) perspective on the whole issue. Re-reading Elsa’s moving post could be a starting point.

  13. Chris
    Chris says:

    A restorative alternative to Sheryl’s driven role:

    Voluntary simplicity can ease the stress of American life

    Aldebra Schroll, MD | Patient | May 24, 2010

    Who hasn’t heard the story of a friend or acquaintance who retires only to become seriously ill or die soon after?

    Are we working ourselves to death? For anyone who has ever wondered “is this worth it?” a move is afoot to question the concept of the American work ethic. We are currently the most overworked society on the globe. The United States has surpassed Japan as the nation with the longest working hours. We also enjoy less vacation time than most Europeans, where the average is six weeks a year.

    As we have developed more advances in technology to make our lives easier, instead we have ended up stressed and exhausted. Americans soothe themselves by acquiring more and more things, but increasing debts add another layer of stress with personal bankruptcy on the rise nationally.

    A vicious cycle is created when we need to work ever harder to support a lifestyle of debt and abundance. What does all this mean for our health? One clue may be the increased rate of heart attacks on Monday mornings.

    Voluntary simplicity offers an alternative to this lifestyle. It asks us to examine our consumer driven lifestyle, our relationship to money, work and what it means to be happy and fulfilled. It encompasses a wide variety of lifestyle choices, from the CEO who decides to cut back on work hours to spend more time with her children, to the family that chooses to live off the land and raise their own food.

    There is no one model that suits everyone. Spiritual exploration, environmental consciousness and more healthful living are frequent benefits. The goal is a life enriched with a sense of purpose and fulfillment with a decreased emphasis on the pursuit of wealth and status.

    Steps toward voluntary simplicity

    Examine and make a list of your personal priorities and goals. Consider how do you want to spend your time and where do you want to be in ten years.

    Explore what your work means to you. Does it give you a sense of fulfillment?

    Learn to say no. Set limits on your obligations and stick to them.

    Reduce stress by eliminating debt. Money concerns are a common source of marital discord and personal frustration.

    Think before you buy. Consider whether the item is something that you really need and will regularly use.

    Eat a simpler diet. Limit the consumption of fat laden fast food and highly processed foods. We are blessed to have an abundance of locally grown foods available through our local farmers markets.

    Explore your spirituality. Medical studies have found improved outcomes and better coping skills in patients who have a spiritual belief system.

    Volunteer. Doing something for someone else has powerful benefits. I have often recommended this to patients. They return empowered with a sense of purpose.

    Connect with nature. Plant a garden or explore the park and its many hiking trails. Enjoying our natural environment is a wonderful form of relaxation.

    Honor yourself with a day of rest every week. This is an important opportunity for renewal.

    Aldebra Schroll is a family physician who blogs An Apple a Day at NorCal Blogs.

  14. Jules
    Jules says:

    Yes, lets judge each other’s choices. I totally can talk about other people’s life experience when I am not walking in their shoes. And being a mother is a women’s only identity. Once we have kids, that is it, mother. How dare anyone else choose differently.

    I’ve read what you write and frankly, one day something will yank you off that high horse and then, we’ll talk. We’ll talk about how different is the view from down here.

  15. Steve C
    Steve C says:

    At the end of the day, I’ll be willing to bet that, with their last few breaths, anyone ever said ” I wish I hadn’t spent so much time with my children”.
    If you go through life judging your lot in life by comparing yourself to what someone else has done or has, you are doomed to vacillate between conceit and envy, with no in between.

  16. shifa.mcx
    shifa.mcx says:

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  17. Kimberly Griffith
    Kimberly Griffith says:

    I’m doing my weekly check-in on your blog, and had to comment today, with the above link to my own, because only yesterday I wrote about my frustrations with Lean In/ Sheryl Sandberg as the new poster-girl for Feminist. I’m a former corporate litigator, mother of three small children (including twins), and now running my husband and my Child and Family Psychiatry practice (he’s the Psychiatrist). I’d love your thoughts, if you have the time. Particularly if you have additional insights into what really goes down in the Sandberg/ Goldberg household!

  18. menova
    menova says:

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  19. Troy Augustine Salt Lake City
    Troy Augustine Salt Lake City says:

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  20. 365days inabeautiful life
    365days inabeautiful life says:

    I just finished a nine month stint doing exactly that….working away, commuting home on weekends. Sadly, I made nowhere near as much money as any of these women, and my children were still neglected. This time will go down in my work history as the nine month nightmare simply because living apart from my children was exactly that.

    When I was unexpectedly laid off, I drove myself back home the next day. Since then, I’ve been having a period of serious reconsideration with regards to career and work. What do I really want? What am I willing to go without? The women who write these things leave out an important detail: We must choose. We cannot be excellent wives and mothers and excellent breadwinners. Something has to give. I see it all the time. I saw it in my own children despite daily facetime chats and zealous guarding of my weekends. I have a daughter who runs. She’s very good. If I work full time, I can’t be at her races, and I can’t be there for her in other ways as well.

    The real question is: is my child’s childhood about them or me? Are they my accessory, existing to make me look good, or am I their parent, guarding their innocence, supporting their dreams, nurturing their emotions and intellect. Maybe Sandberg and Meyers have found a way to do both. Maybe I’m not good enough to do both.

    Or maybe, maybe it just isn’t possible.

  21. Damian
    Damian says:

    Among the many parts I like about your blog is the images. This one in particular reminds me of my cello playing as a youth. Thanks.

  22. Mint
    Mint says:

    I think there is a lack of awareness that this is all very specific to the business/tech world. There are many career paths in which you can be at the top of your career and still see your kids.
    As someone outside of this world this is all as foreign to me as what the hollywood stars do is to you.
    I am not saying your definition of success is wrong – it is just very specific.

  23. H Elizabeth
    H Elizabeth says:

    I am always interested in the lives of the parents of those we consider successful. Sandberg’s mother had an earned PhD, but set aside her own successful work in order to raise Sheryl and her siblings. Does not her mother’s years of attentiveness play a part in Sheryl’s success?

    Children require attention and repetitive instruction, because we want to protect them, to help them see delights and possibilities, to see the world as they ought, and to help them grow well. They will “grow” in their natural immaturity, or they will grow to beautiful maturity. Witness the beauty of old growth trees, of gardens, of well wrought craft, of beautiful food, of all that is true, good and beautiful. (There will be missteps and messes along the way.) Witness the knowledge of, and ability to love and be loved.

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