Leaning In

Last week I went to BlogHer. The largest conference for women bloggers in the world, this conference is big and loud and dynamic and (if you’re not careful) overwhelming. 

I went to a ton of great events. I got to visit with friends. I connected with the teams behind some of my favorite brands. However, the most profound moment came when I sat down at a table with five strangers and opened my heart. 

Saturday morning the conference began with Sheryl Sandberg. The COO of Facebook, Sandberg recently authored Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I read the book last month while on vacation and I loved it. Sandberg has received criticism for advocating ambitious career tracks that many women simply do not have the options or resources to pursue. 

When I started the book, I was ready to disagree with much of Sandberg’s position. Imagine my surprise when she addressed her critics up front and then set out a passionate and compassionate argument for becoming your own best advocate – no matter your situation. Never once did I feel like Sandberg was judging me for my own off-ramping and I truly believe her personal journey and honest insight has application way beyond the upper echelons of corporate America.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only one because she was treated like a rock star at BlogHer. She came down into the crowd before her appearance and kindly greeted all of us while taking pictures, signing autographs, and collecting business cards. 

But nothing prepared me for what happened next. Lean In the book has inspired Lean In circles all over the country, where women gather to support one another in pursuing career goals. After her appearance, leaders from the organization helped those who chose to stay organize into impromptu Lean In circles.

We gathered in groups of six and right next to me a group of five added Sheryl Sandberg as their sixth. Seeing her sit down and listen as the women shared their goals and frustrations was completely inspiring. 

The only thing more inspiring was what happened at my own group.

A group of strangers we left the session an hour later as sisters. We shared our struggles and our sadness. We made each other laugh and cry. From all backgrounds and experiences, we each opened up and allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. The connection women can create when given the time and space to do so has always been amazing to me. I remember in college spending hours with friends or even mere acquaintances sharing past heartache and future dreams. 

Sadly, there’s been less and less space for that type of connection in my adult life. Everyone is so busy or concerned about what others will think if they share real emotions or insight. However, something is lost when our relationships never dive below the surface of everyday interactions. Something real. Something fantastic. 

The question that at the heart of Leaning In – what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Watching these women share and listening to what they had already overcome, I can’t say I left ready to tackle my biggest fear but I can absolutely say I left that circle a little less afraid and a lot more inspired and definitely more prepared to lean in. 

Tell me. What would you do if you weren’t afraid?