I’ve recently made a Big Choice. I have chosen to ignore Sheryl Sandberg and ‘lean out’ of my chosen career path. I don’t know if this choice is temporary or permanent. This will only be clear in retrospect. But for me, in this moment, it’s a good choice – a choice I am able to make, and one I am making. A choice that feels right. A choice that in this moment, in the context of my own life story feels like the best thing I could do.
And this choice has been years in the making. It’s the result of my own journey into a career path – my own story, my own shifting thoughts and beliefs about home and career and being a woman, a wife, and a ton of reading and thinking, and ranting and pondering. It’s about all those things, and also about none of them. Because it’s also about doing a job that’s defined by sadness and unfairness and pain and suffering. And how that gets hard after 12 years doing it.
This is my journey. Mine. Just mine. Not yours, hers, or theirs. Not Sheryl Sandberg’s. Not the chattering commentators, nor the social policy makers. No one else’s but mine. I am not ‘leaning out’ because I think I should. I’m not doing it to be like anyone. I’m not doing it because it’s sensible. I’m doing it (and this is new for me) because I’m getting braver about recognising, and pursuing, the kind of life I want to be leading. Not the life someone with my education/ kids/ life/brain/potential/husband (delete as appropriate) should be leading. Not doing it the way my friends, my family, people I admire, people I read about are doing it.
And that’s a big change for me. To start owning who I am, how I want to live and how I want to be in the world.
Your truth is not my truth, mine is not yours – and neither should it be. Maybe you already get this. I’m a little slower off the mark. It’s taken me a mighty long time to get to this point. It’s taken me a long old time to stop looking around me, and look inward instead.
Something I read helped me come to this decision. In it Gail Brenner talks about “turning away from the story” of your chattering thoughts as a way of leading a more peaceful life, and facing up to difficult feelings. I love chatter. I surround myself with it. In my head, in person, in the tv I choose to watch, in the radio I listen to, in the kind of work I do. So when I read a post that suggested I try turning away from it, that suggested that all the noise and chatter obscured what I was really feeling – I was stopped in my tracks. And I was also offered a valuable way of creating a more peaceful space in my head. A space where I could make a Big Choice and feel ok about it.
I love the idea of turning away. I need to do it. About a thousand times a day. I need to turn away from the chattering in my mind – the anxious, worried, self conscious thinking that starts regularly, suddenly, and usually without warning. The noise that makes it hard for me to make decisions, that makes me feel nervous and edgy and not very productive at all. If I turn away from it, and turn toward the feelings that sit beneath it….well, it’s a revelation. If I let myself feel what I’m feeling, and gently turn myself away from the scaremongering fearful racket in my head, then the world becomes a heap more manageable. The questions become slightly easier to answer.
I’ve been surprised by what I’m actually feeling when I do turn away from my thoughts. So often, it’s just that I’m a bit tired. Or unwell. Or sad. Nothing terribly complicated. However, the thoughts get tangly and confusing and frustrating. My arguments for this and against that trip over each other. At which point I get overwhelmed, stressed and defeated.
For years I have thought and thought some more about the issue of ‘leaning in’ or ‘leaning out’ (or lounging about somewhere in the middle). My thoughts have made it hard for me to pinpoint how I feel about home and motherhood, and wifedom and career. I have been chattering madly in my head. I’ve been listening to everyone else’s chatter. The story of my thoughts has swung backward and forward. I’ve tied myself in knots. I’ve cried and I’ve gnashed my teeth. I’ve found it really hard to make decisions.
But here I am today. Turned away from the thinking. More resolved than I’ve ever been. Uncertain as ever about the future. No idea what the consequences of my choice will be. Absolutely unsure about the way forward. But peaceful. Which is freeing. And pretty much exactly where I want to be.