There’s something about washing dishes that makes me reevaluate my life. Every night I stand there at the sink after dinner, up to my elbows in soapsuds and greasy pots, and my mind spins and tumbles and relaxes. For some reason, I find clarity in that basin. I don’t know if it’s the running water, or the birds chirping at me from my backyard, or maybe it’s just the alone time, but I’ve achieved more serenity than you would think standing there scrubbing pots.
Tonight I am awash in self-reflection. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had what can only be described as a collection of contradictions swimming inside my head, and I’m desperately trying to disentangle them one from another. Tonight my mind wanders back to a conversation I had with my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter earlier in the day. She has seen me doing a lot of writing lately, and after her nap, she comes bounding up to me and asks what my ideas are. I tell her, “I’m writing about how I want you to do anything you want to do in this world, to find something you love, work hard at it, and be unafraid to follow your dreams.” “Thank you,” is her reply, and I smile. She really means it. She knows that her mommy is her biggest supporter. When I talk to my daughter, I always know the right things to say. And I mean what I tell her.
It’s really easy to be good to my kids. It’s not always so easy to be good to myself. What comes all too naturally to me is to beat myself up for this, that, or the other thing, to feel guilty for not living up to whatever impossible standards I’ve laid out for myself, and generally to sell myself short.
I know with every ounce of my being that I need to make some changes in my life. Ever since I submitted my personal essay, Thank You Sheryl Sandberg, to CNN and proclaimed how happy I was being a stay-at-home mother, I have been feeling less and less happy. In truth, I’ve been feeling this way for a while now, and a combination of being unable to ignore Sheryl’s call to lean in, alongside the exhilaration I have found again in declaring myself a writer, has brought me to the realization that fulfilling my longtime dream of writing a book would bring me immense happiness.
But I’m finding myself stuck. I’ve written every day for the last three weeks, and while the words are flowing I feel great, until I wake up the next morning, reread what I’ve written, and deem it not smart enough, not good enough, stupid. At my weakest moments, it doesn’t matter that I feel so alive when I’m writing, that the worst thing for me to do would be to stand still and give in to the status quo of my life, because in these moments I feel vulnerable, exposed, and small. In these moments, I want to close my notebook and lay aside my pen.
If my daughter came to me as an adult and told me that she aches to be a writer, that she wrote a blog that made it to the front page of CNN, I’d tell her to go for it with all her might. “Go follow your dreams,” I’d say. “Move forward and don’t look back. Don’t listen to the naysayers who detract from your accomplishment, the critics who call you uninspiring and weak, and worse still, the voice in your own head that tells you you’re not good enough. Just go for it. Grab that golden ring. To do anything less would be a waste of your precious gift. It would be living a leaned back life. You’re so much better than that.” I know that’s what I would tell my daughter. So why don’t I tell this to myself? And why am I in tears as I write this?
I am finally unlocking the truth. I am trying to release myself from my small life of hiding in shadows, doing as I’m told, and living in fear. I’ve had enough of living that way. I’m tired of it. And yet at the same time, I’m afraid to let it go because that is the only life I know.
That’s why reading Lean In has quite simply been changing my life. It has given me the courage to stare myself in the face and realize that I can do and be more. Though a modern feminist manifesto, no doubt, and one that will undeniably guide a new generation of women to leadership positions, it is also a framework for living a more engaged, confident, and fulfilling life. No one, woman or man, CEO or stay-at-home mother, should feel small, or not good enough, or think her place is at the side of the room. We all need to hold our heads high, believe in ourselves for the gifts we possess, and be kind to ourselves as we go about the messy business of achieving our dreams.
I’m coming to realize that beating myself up will get me nowhere. It will do nothing but hold me in the same stuck place I’ve been in for years. So I’m putting myself out there, even though it’s hard, especially because it’s hard, because I know in the end that sitting at the table will make me a happier person. Bit by bit, I’ll get there. Thank you, again, Sheryl Sandberg, for all you have done for me.