The 'Lean In' Generation Have Become Addicted to Work. It Has to Stop

Spending every hour working isn’t a sign of success, living a full and happy life is. Natalie Campbell explains why getting stuff done is more important than the direction you lean in.

Lean in, lean out, shake it all about. When did we get so concerned with which way we’re facing? Surely it’s more important just to get stuff done?

Last week I read an article in the New Yorker that proclaimed women should ‘lean out’ in response to Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’. It then led me to an article suggesting women should ‘recline’ instead. Two hours later, I began to think that we are in a muddle.

I’ve read Lean In twice and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I’ve also seen what happens when you take it too seriously. A friend of a friend has Lean In perched in pride of place in her flat. She has a degree from Oxbridge, an MBA from what I consider the holy-grail of US universities and is plotting a path to partnership at her top tier consulting firm. Lean In for her is a bible. But it’s also become a prison.She has the talent and skills to have a high-flying and brilliant career. But when you meet her you realise she’s following a path that she’s not entirely happy with. She’s conforming to a model created by, and for men. For women this model is a ball and chain, it doesn’t give us the freedom to play to our strengths. Hands up those of you that get up early to work, before getting the kids ready for school, then putting in another 8-10 hours at the office before going home, playing mum and then checking your emails again. I have two words for you. “crash” and “burn”. It’s not that dissimilar for women without kids. Maybe the kids have been replaced by hours at the gym or dinner with friends while still sending emails. This is the sort of living that has increasing numbers of women taking anti-depressants.

Ladies, it’s not sustainable. We have interpreted the call to take our place at the table as a call to office addiction. Worse than that, we’ve dressed this addiction up as female empowerment and equality. Now I know that isn’t Sandberg’s, or anyone else’s intention. I often preach that women need to put themselves forward for more opportunities but the message has been confused. It’s not “do more, do more and then do some more”. It’s not a call for long hours over having a life.

I want to be clear: if spending every hour at work is what gives you a buzz then go for it. But if you think you might have got lost on the path to happiness then let me give you some directions:

1. Own your life, do not follow what you think you should be doing. Just because I can do something, it doesn’t mean I want or have to.

2. Make time to live well, to exercise your mind, body and spirit. There’s no definition for this, it’s whatever that looks like to you. Just make sure you’re living a full life.

3. And finally, get stuff done. Done has an ending, if you’re always doing and are never done then you’ll hit a wall sooner rather than later.


This article first appeared on The Guardian.


Natalie Campbell is founder and director of A Very Good Company, a social innovation consultancy.

Follow her on Twitter or connect with her on Linkedin.

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