Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Snapshot Book Review: Lean In

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn't the type of book I ordinarily read for pleasure. In fact, I almost never read books like this voluntarily, with the exception of a few by Malcom Gladwell (with which I was, admittedly, not impressed). However, there has been so much hubbub about this book that I decided--as I did with books like The Da Vinci Code and Fifty Shades of Grey--that I needed to read it and form my own opinion.

In a nutshell, my opinion is this: the take-home message is valuable. However, I already knew the take-home message before reading the book and, without having read any of her arguments, agreed with it. I think that it is important that a woman holding corporate power wrote this book, in order for her message to be taken seriously and broadcast widely. However, I also think that as a white woman with degrees from Harvard and a resume touting some of the top companies in this country, she has written a book that unintentionally alienates a lot of the audience she was trying to reach. Plus, as she very astutely points out,

"If a man had delivered the same message [that women sometimes hold themselves back] or even gently pointed out that women might be taking actions that limited their options, he would have been pilloried."

Now, for a more granular breakdown (and why I didn't give this book more stars).

As a woman in her late twenties with no husband and no children, I really related to about the first third of the book--the part with no mention of children. This is where Sandberg really gets into some of the gender differences both inside and outside the workplace, several of which I identified. For instance, this issue is something I have always struggled with:

"Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can't seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are--impostors with limited skills or abilities.... Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn't embarrass myself--or even excelled--I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up."

Once she delved into the working relationship between husbands and wives, I wasn't nearly as engaged, but I was still willing to come along for the ride. She made a number of good points about perceived equality between partners, and also about sharing both professional and domestic responsibilities. Of course, most of these points have all been made before, but I think this (Sandberg's book) was probably one of the most efficient ways of getting those messages out to the general public in one neat package. My favorite suggestion--based on research, all of which Sandberg cited extremely thoroughly throughout her book--was this:

"...couples who share domestic responsibilities have more sex. It may be counter-intuitive, but the best way for a man to make a pass at his wife might be to do the dishes."

Finally, about two-thirds of the way through the book, Sandberg jumps into the issues surrounding child-work balance...and never lets up. Virtually the rest of the book focuses on what women, men, and society can and should do in order to make having a family and excelling professionally possible for women. It was at this point that, as a reader, I tuned out. All of the points she made seemed valid; however, I simply couldn't relate personally to these dilemmas, because I am not yet at that point in my life. Moreover, every point she made seemed overly drawn out, particularly for ideas that are decided not new. We all know that there need to be better child care options for working mothers. Fathers do need to contribute more to domestic responsibilities, and they need to be encouraged to do so without retribution and also without shiny gold stars for tasks they should already be doing. It's challenging yet possible to have both a family and a successful career, but it's inaccurate and damaging to say a woman "can have it all."

And so on, and so forth.

The most bitter complaints against this book have cited Sandberg as being privileged and elitist. These reviewers are correct. Both she and her husband have had equally lucrative and powerful career trajectories that entitled them to privileges that your average middle-class reader simply doesn't have (e.g. a nanny, family flights on private jets, the ability to relocate entire companies...etc.). In this way, Sandberg effectively alienates that large swath of her audience that doesn't have these privileges. As one reviewer points out, "Wealth makes a huge difference in constructing a life that balances the desires for a career and a family. She does not appreciate this."

Most of these increasingly irritating examples come in the latter part of the book--the part I already didn't much care for--and so my recommendation would be this: borrow Lean In from your local library. Read the first few chapters. When you start feeling irritated or bored, return the book, because it won't get any better.

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Boston BuildUp Series: Part III (A Double-Race Weekend)

As a rule, I don't schedule more than one race per weekend. In fact, in the past I have generally tried to avoid running more than once race per month. However, thanks to the "Polar Vortex" and all of the snow and ice it has brought with it, the 20k race of the Boston Buildup Series was postponed twice, resulting in it being run this Sunday . . . the day after the 4-mile Al Gordon race I already had on my schedule.

Last weekend, I made the difficult choice: I'd race-race the 4-miler and just run the 20k as a long run. This doesn't mean I thought my chances of placing were any better in the 4-mile race than in the 20k; I just wanted to avoid disappointing myself, and if I "took it easy" on the 4-miler and still ran poorly for the 20k, then I would definitely end up disappointed. So I decided 4 miles of pain would feel better than 12.6 miles of disappointment.

However, as you may have already predicted, I just couldn't help myself. I raced both.

To let myself off the hook just a little bit, I didn't run the 4-miler as well as I think I could have. Getting to the race involved so much treacherous waddle-stepping over black ice that I ran the first mile of the race scared to death that I'd take one step and end up flying into an icy snowbank; as a result, I started the race with a 7:30 mile--far slower than what I'm capable of. Miraculously, I somehow averaged 6:28 per mile for the whole race, which means I must have been cooking for those last 3 miles. Therefore, while I finished 3rd in my age group (and contributed to Gotham City Runners placing first in the team competition!), I still think I could have run a faster race.

On the train ride to Fairfield for the 20k race the next day, I had few (if any) expectations. My legs felt drained, and I did not feel up to racing anything, never mind something almost as long as a half marathon. When the gun went off, I didn't feel that surge of nerves and excitement I usually get when a race starts. I just felt apprehensive. My teammate A___ was wearing a bright red hat, and I used that as my pacing marker for the first 10k of the race. So long as I kept him in my sight, I knew I wasn't falling too far behind what I should be running for a race of this distance. At just about the 10k mark, he suddenly stopped on a hill (due to digestive issues, I later found out), so I picked up another teammate M___'s orange shirt as my new pacing marker. She was considerably farther ahead, but as the second half of the race progressed, I felt better and better. Either my legs were finally loosening up, or the course was flattening out, but regardless, I found myself gaining on her. Finally, in the last 5k of the race, we ran together for a good mile-and-a-half, during which we jointly passed a blond woman in front of us and earned an admiring "you girls were cooking" compliment from two other gentlemen when we all finished.

Much to my surprise, I somehow finished this race 10th for women, with an average pace that was only 6 seconds (per mile) off of my best half marathon time. Not bad at all for having just ran a sprint the day before! Now I can only hope that this back-to-back racing will have prepared me for April . . . when I am scheduled to run a half marathon on three of the four weekends in the month!

Results from these races:

Al Gordon 4-miler
Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
4 miles
51 / 1,898
13 / 905
3 / 166

Boston Buildup 20k
Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
36 / 219
10 / 72
10 / 32

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bitch on a Plane

So E___ and I are on our way back from Iceland (more on that later). The two of us are sitting way back in the very last row of the plane, minding our own business--i.e. watching bad movies on those little headrest screens--when suddenly a stewardess appears beside us, bends down, and fumbles around in the seat pocket of the empty seat between us. She retrieves a flat brownish-looking paper and, with a nod of apology and a few quick words, retreats. Both of us have our headphones in, so we look questioningly at one another, neither having heard. I shrug and then go back to watching The Wolverine. E___ roots around in her seat pocket until she identifies the same brown item. Turning to me, she mouths, "Barf bag."

Not more than a few moments later, two blond stewardesses come lurching down the aisle, supporting a thin young man who is literally covered in gray Icelandair blankets. They settle him in the seat across from us, at which point I get a better view and determine that he must be the one they needed the extra barf bag for. He looks pale, and his mouth is drawn in that stubborn way that says, "God I feel awful, but I will not be sick again." I quickly offer up a little prayer that if he is sick, he gets all of the barf into its designated bag.

Mystery solved, I go back to my movie, content to mind my own business . . . until another stewardess arrives with an oxygen tank in tow. Now I can't help but openly stare as they all attempt to maneuver the clearly heavy canister so that the tubes connecting it to a scrunched-up cellophane mask will reach his face. I've never seen anyone this sick on public transportation before. What is wrong with him? Are they just being over-cautious because he vomited a lot?

I'm in the middle of trying-not-to-stare-but-staring-anyway when an older woman--probably 70 or so--comes up the aisle and taps one of the stewardesses on her shoulder.

"Excuse me."

At this point I take my earphones out.

"Excuse me, I need your attention." The woman persists until the stewardess stops helping the sick man and turns around.

"Yes? Do you need something?"

"Yes, I do. I need some water."

The stewardess turns, presumably to fetch a bottle of water from the back of the plane, but the woman isn't finished. She pushes right past the other two stewardesses attempting to oxygenate the sick man and encroaches on the first stewardess, who had only made it as far as the restrooms.

"I watched you walk up and down that aisle a number of times, and never once did you ask me if I needed anything."

I can't quite make out what the stewardess replies, but it probably should have been something like, "I was running up and down the aisle trying to make sure this gentleman here doesn't die. My apologies for not heeding the ESP signals you were sending."

Regardless of what the stewardess's response was, the elderly woman persists with her complaint. "No, you should have stopped and asked if anyone needed anything. It's your job to make sure everyone is comfortable on this flight, and not once was I asked whether I needed anything."

If I were a different person, I might have leaned over and said, "Look, lady, that guy right next to you is basically dying, so back down," or, "Have you ever heard of a call button?" or, "Next time bring your own damn bottle of water." But of course, I don't. Instead, I re-insert my earphones and lean back to watch Wolverine get filled with adamantium. Good thing we don't all have rage-induced claws.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Commuting in New York City: A Winter Haiku

Gray slushy puddle
Are you shallow or deeper?
I suck at gambling