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Going For Your Gusto

Lean in and out to step forward in your career.

All of us, men and women, are increasingly encouraged to step up and take initiative in our work if we want to be “successful.”  Whether we feel brave enough to lean in at the work place or we choose to lean out and pursue our own path, putting a stake in the ground is essential.

I recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, her understandably controversial discourse about women, ambition, and overcoming the self-doubt and prescribed social and spousal role stereotyping most of us fall prey to — and which keeps us from reaching our true leadership potential. Sandberg provides readers with a sense of encouragement to go for the challenging and satisfying career opportunities that they see for themselves, regardless of the inner voices that say, “Hang on, don’t risk it! Don’t be too visible, don’t make waves in your marriage, don’t risk threatening friendships, or missing time from family.”

Sandberg wrote Lean In primarily for women, but it is a valuable read for men, too. In its pages, she comes across as genuine and compassionate; she shares her own experiences of self-doubt and her earlier tendency to downplay herself and her accomplishments like the majority of us do. Yet she acknowledges that she’s one of the fortunate; she’s benefitted from a fine family background and an education that she’s made the most of. She’s worked hard in her role as Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, and earlier in her career when she labored alongside the founders of Google while they were just in the early stages of developing the site. Sandberg acknowledges that she received useful mentoring and advice from powerful leaders that most of us would love to have; mounds of research show that mentors play a key role in the success of men and women leaders. Sandberg’s book is an excellent piece of mentoring; she’s clearly qualified to provide these words of wisdom and encouragement for the modern dilemmas of career development.

As I read Lean In, I found myself thinking of the hundreds of people I’ve worked with who have tried to lean in but who found themselves locked out of opportunities because of self-serving or sabotaging bosses, or those who have taken the plunge to work for themselves so that they can live the lives of work and balance that their previous workplaces didn’t otherwise offer. The desire for flexibility and autonomy, highly valued by many but often not found in traditional workplaces, meant many of my clients felt they had to walk away from ‘jobs’ to have freelance work or their own businesses that enabled them to be themselves.

These people have been courageous; they chose to step away from situations that kept them from being authentic, kept them small and frustrated when they did all they could to show up and share what they had to offer. Sometimes leaning in means stepping away to make your own way.

If you’ve asked yourself the nagging questions: ‘Should I start my own business?’  or “Is it time to quit my job because I can’t stand working for my abusive boss one more day?’ or felt that you have been undermined so often that you see your self-esteem slipping away, then you, too, may need to lean way out and into a new job, or into a new endeavor where you will shine in your unique talents, knowledge and gusto.

How? Lay the groundwork before you let your fears and insecurities get the better of you. Take action: Identify your skills, your unique gifts, and your workplace contributions. Also identify how you’ve contributed to what’s gone wrong so you can either develop your weaknesses or find someone to complement your strengths.

Lean out by finding networking opportunities via Facebook, LinkedIn, Meetup groups, or your local Chamber of Commerce, and call on people you know. Check out organiztions like SCORE (score.org) for business plan assistance and networking, or the resources at your local branch of the Small Business Administration. Develop your plan – be it a business, a service, a company you want to work for, or a skill set you want to use –so you aren’t moving from a place of fear (although fear may be present) but rather from courage and conviction in yourself.

With all of the capability we now have at our fingertips to research and connect, it’s just a matter of time before you can make significant strides, if you are dedicated. Get the help you need to land the job you want, or find a partner for your business that lets you be the leader you are or can be, in your unique way. Connect with your supporters via Facebook, LinkedIn, or by picking up the phone; share with your network what you’re passionate about doing, creating, and envisioning. Honestly listen to any naysayers and do your homework to know what works for you. Put your stake in the ground. Then move forward.

Daisy Swan, founder of Daisy Swan & Associates and author of Making Work Work: Secrets from a Career Coach’s Office works with clients of all ages who are motivated to find the lifestyle that authentically works for them: daisyswan.com.



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