The term “lean in” became a popular business motto back in 2013 when COO of Facebook Sherly Sandberg penned the book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. “Lean in” as a concept encouraged women to adopt strategies to help them succeed and move up in the business world. The phrase took on a broader meaning as time progressed, and now applies to other areas as well, in addition to its original construct.
I recently heard the term “lean in” in a country song, and it got me thinking about the more widespread use of this word today. I am hearing this phrase more often and wanted to pay homage to it, as lately it has appeared frequently in my own vocabulary.
As I use it in my everyday speech, leaning in can be applied to almost every situation and every person. Leaning in means you are engaged, you are choosing to allocate your energy, time, and resources to a certain project, person, or activity. This is not done out of a requirement or obligation, but rather out of passion, loyalty, or personal commitment.
I lean in to my kids, supporting their interests, activities, and strengths. I show up to the (sometimes long and cold) soccer games, swim lessons, gymnastics classes. I engage in animated discussions about which superheroes are the best and why. I share my love of music and pass on the “Who’s singing game?” in the car that my mom so smartly assembled for us kids at young ages.
I lean in to my marriage, once in a blue moon planning a childless night for adults, usually accompanying beverages, our friends, and shenanigans. I leave funny little notes for my husband when he wakes up at 1am each day for work. We constantly go back and forth with each load of laundry, hiding a particular one of our son’s tee shirts in each others’ drawers or closets, over and over until someone gives in and puts it away (HA! Loser!) I text “I love you” and my ETA for most things, just to touch base, not because I have to.
I lean in to my job, preparing and planning for each project or task with an optimistic outlook and drive. I lean into my friends, venting about life and stress and sharing our experiences to help normalize the anxiety that comes with this busy life. I lean in to writing, struggling at times but feeling such enjoyment when the words so smoothly escape my fingertips and I am proud of the day’s results.
It is quite apparent as I type the above examples of my life “lean ins”, that you just simply cannot lean in to all of these areas, all the time. Even trying to would surely lead to a quick burnout. Filling your own tank is important, and ideally the “leaning in” you are doing should also be enjoyable and a bucket filler for you. However, there are times where in order to protect my sanity, I must choose not to lean in. These are the times where I am tapping my spouse, relative, or friend for help. Maybe I don’t walk big dude to the bus stop, and hubby does it so I can grab a quick 20 extra minutes of rest. Maybe hubby skips the swim lesson as he needs to watch the game and relax today. We are lucky that we have that support, as not everyone does. It is important to lean out when you recognize the need and are able to. Self care is everything.
If you are one of the people who must lean in even when they would rather not, or who feel pushed to your limits and are breaking. Do the best you can, and that is all you can do. Try to carve out a few minutes of peace for yourself at the end of a long day, the one you would have rather sharply leaned out of. Take a hot bath. Eat some warm soup or enjoy that cup of coffee. Catch up on your book chapter or your favorite sitcom. Call your sister or bff and cry/scream in your closet for a few minutes. Whatever you have to do (safely) to get through the unrelenting leaning until you can get some sort of support, do it.
I love the concept of leaning in. Only in my mid-thirties have I learned that leaning in is choice we can make each day, and that we choose where we direct our energy, love, and time. I hope you find something that you love, as small or big as it may be, and choose to lean in towards it a little each day.