A Lesson From 'Lean In': Why My Daughter Will Know Her Self-Worth

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

My 4-year-old daughter loves princesses. She often declares that she will be a princess when she grows up and insists on repeating it even after my son jokingly chides her for her choice in career.

I'll be honest, the idea that a tiara is something she aspires to frustrates me as a parent. And yet, I realize now that I've waited for a tiara myself. I've waited for people to recognize my accomplishments and bestow a gift, whether it be a job, a promotion or a raise. I want to make sure that my daughter  knows that she shouldn't wait for her dreams to be fulfilled—she is the one who will make them come true. (For more tips on making your dreams come true, click here.)

After reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, I'm amazed at how many times I've held myself back—without even realizing it. I thought I was making the right choice based on what women "should" do. And while I wouldn't change the course of my life, I do want to learn from it. 

In my senior year of college, I got to the final round of interviews to be a consultant at McKinsey & Company, an elite consulting firm. The day after the last interview they called me back. A partner told me that they were concerned about my low math scores on my SATs and because of the score they couldn't readily offer me a job. I see now that a man would have taken this as a starting point in a negotiation and I wish I would have fought for that job. I could have suggested I would do an intensive math course or argued that the SATs didn't represent my current math skills. Instead, I held back tears and said, "I understand, thank you for the opportunity."

I graduated, got married and moved to Upstate New York where I spent the next six months working at the Gap and looking for a real job. I didn't fight for my dream job because I didn't know that I could. 

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I see now that I often gave up opportunities to be passionately engaged because they didn't fit into my schedule. I didn't participate in moot court because it would have required me to stay at law school on the weekends instead of driving home to be with my husband. I chose college classes with early exam dates so that I could have a longer vacation visiting my family who lived overseas, instead of choosing classes that fascinated me. I wouldn't trade my strong family ties for anything in the world. But now I see that I canand very well could havemade choices that would have supported my exploration of passion and cultivated my family bonds.

My daughter, I am going to teach you to follow your passions. If the service trip you want to take cuts into our family vacation, I am going to encourage you to take the trip. Our love will survive even if we see each other less. If you have a career opportunity that will take you far from home but that stokes your passion, I will support you however I can—with babysitting, money or a phone call when you are homesick. Make your choices based on interest, not just duty or responsibility. I am going to teach you to fight for what you want in life. Just because someone says no, doesn't mean you have to take it. Speak up and try to get a yes. Even if you don't really want it, fight so that when you do want something, you know how to get it.

Sheryl Sandberg talks about the career jungle gym instead of the career ladder. I see now that my adherence to a ladder perspective has made it harder to accept the choices I have made that have taken me off the ladder. If I had always seen it as a jungle gym, then my stint at the Gap, my two years as a college-admissions advisor, my degree in international business law, my six years running our family medical practice and my recent foray into starting my own coaching business, would have felt less like a jumbled mismatch and more like a wealth of experiences. 

I am changing my perspective and finding the value in each opportunity that I have embraced. And if I had been able to do that earlier, it would have saved me hours and hours of self-doubt and feeling unsuccessful because I wasn't on the traditional ladder.

So, my daughter, I will teach you to view life not as a ladder to be climbed but as a game to be played. You will move forwards and backwards, try one thing then another and they will all have value. You will learn something in every situation and all of these learnings will make a life worth living. You can still make to the top, no matter how many times you jump off the jungle gym.

These are the lessons I am learning, and the lessons I will teach her. Yes, her desire to be a princesses will probably pass, but I will do my best to make sure that behind it is a desire, combined with the will and skills, to make that dream come true.

To read more on parenting with skill, click here.