Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Personal Rambling Review of Lean In - An Equal Myth To Having It All


             I said no to a publishing house. I’m crazy! What was I thinking? I’ve dreamed of the day that my series, The Ancient Realm finds a publishing house it can call home. And, I just let that dream go…

            Let me take you through key factors I thought about when making my decision and how Ms. Sandberg’s book made my blood boil during this process.

Factor #1: My sons: 1-year-old Finnegan and 3-year-old Wyatt.

My husband’s one piece of advice to me was do not base your decision off of the boys. He said, “If you need more hours to write to meet the publishing house’s deadlines, we will make it work.” 
I really appreciated my husband giving me this freedom – really I did – but it was still incredibly hard not to think about the boys when making my decision. Let me give you some background: this past year I became a mother of two boys, and it was the most challenging year I’ve had as a mother. Finn had horrible acid reflux and cried for at least one hour after every single feeding. I was averaging a maximum of five hours of sleep for ten straight months – I was delusional and miserable at best. I won’t even go into all the health issues we had with Wyatt during this year as well.
But now, now the sun is shinning! Finn is so happy and so easy. He’s this snuggle nugget. He’s my little buddy that fits perfectly in my arms and just smiles, smiles, smiles. Wyatt is finally medication free – he’s healthy – he’s growing – he’s firing up the jungle gym like a 3-year-old should! My time with my boys is now awesome, and just now when I’m not getting barfed on every five minutes, I’m going to put them in daycare and leave them… In just one year, both of them will be in preschool and then I will have plenty of time to write, but the publishing house was offering me a deal now, not in a year.
So I was excited to hear about the book Lean In, by Ms. Sheryl Sandberg. Knowing Ms. Sandberg is a working mom, I’d hope her words would glow with advice for me about my mixed feelings of giving up my boys’ young years to a daycare facility.
I will just tell you straight up, Ms. Sandberg completely alienated me. If her goal was to piss me off, she succeeded. I am riled up!
Okay first, Ms. Sandberg is making a fortune at her job – a fortune. She can hire the best help this world has to offer: a cook, a gardener, a nanny, a driver… When she leaves for work – she’s not packing up lunches, herding kids out the door, strapping kids into car seats, and rushing them off to daycare where the germ packed snot running down the kids’ faces is thicker than mayonnaise. When her kids were babies, I bet she was leaving the house solo with her kids still possibly in their pjs while her nanny was washing the dishes leftover from breakfast.
Ms. Sandberg stated when she feels bad about not being home with her kids, she thinks about the times her son got to fence with Mark Zuckerberg (Founder of Facebook) and how wonderful of an opportunity that was for him. Please, how is any normal working mom going to relate to that.
My personal favorite of Ms. Sandberg’s attempt to relate to other moms is when she went to a conference with her kids via the CEO of eBay’s private plane and how freaked she was the whole time because her kid had lice. Again – private plane, CEO of eBay… Yes, her kid had lice (mind you, I’ve had it three times and its not the end of the world), but come on! I’ve ridden on a private plane once in my life and let me tell you – it doesn’t matter if your kid has lice – it is out-of-this-world easier than flying commercial. Most moms in this situation would have been dealing with the extreme pain-in-the-ass head-ache of flying commercial: finding parking at the airport, checking in, security, waiting at the gate and waiting and waiting some more, flying packed like a sardine, arriving to wait some more for bags, catching a taxi – all with a kid with lice.
Don’t even get me started about the fact that her husband got to move his company closer to her job so it was easier on their family. Yes, that is very practical for Ryan and I. I will just ask the CEO of Boeing to move 90% of their unmanned aircraft industry to Washington DC so I can continue my first career (one I worked very hard at for five years) at the Security and Exchange Commission as an Investigator.
Ms. Sandberg, in a rambling chapter nine, makes a prophet’s claim that we cannot have it all and we need – no, must – stop attempting this impossible feat. Why thank you so much for this inspiring statement! Perfect, I thought, I couldn’t wait to stop trying to have it all. I desperately read on to see what she expected me to give up, and yes, I was greatly disappointed yet again. My favorite example – organizing the linen closet. Second favorite – volunteering at her kid’s school. First, I don’t have a linen closet. Second, great – lets just continue to leave the volunteering jobs at our kids’ schools to stay-at-home moms because they really have so much time, not.
Ms. Sandberg can pretend that she’s said something so important to us moms by telling us we can’t have it all, but she’s completely missed the point. (A) Let’s be real, Ms. Sandberg is still trying to have it all and she’s lying to herself and her readers when she tells you she’s not. And, (B) most of us just want two things (we gave up organizing linen closets long ago): to create the best family and to create the ultimate career for ourselves – we will happily give up almost everything else to achieve this feat.
Long story short, I stuck my tongue out at Ms. Sandberg’s book – yet another piece of literature that falls into the classic pitfall of having working moms facing off against non-working moms. However, I am slightly impressed – she dug deeper and pitted top female executives against young working women just setting out in their career. Yes, lets just continue to pit girls against girls – love it, not.
None-the-less, with a heavy heart I heeded my husband advice and did not base my decision off of our sons. My husband and I are extremely fortunate. In our small town there are a couple of in-home daycares that would have been great for Finn. Wyatt wasn’t an issue because he’s already in preschool.

Factor #2: My legal rights to my book

In the contract I was presented I signed my rights away completely - I no longer owned ANY rights to my book – a book I created, a book that I’d poured my heart and soul into for years – rights gone, completely gone. A common practice with writers and publishers, but one I’m not ready to accept. Could I be Leaning In by demanding more…? Did I just give Ms. Sandberg some credit?

Factor #3: Publisher’s costs above the line, mine below

I was going to receive 50% of the profits after the publisher’s expenses were deducted, but not after my expenses. I don’t make anything as an author – nothing – but currently my only cost is my time. To meet the publisher’s deadlines I would have had to incur at least $700 in daycare expenses a month. That adds up for our house, especially when I am not contributing to the bottom line.
Maybe this is where Ms. Sandberg would have told me to Lean In and ask for my expenses to also be deducted out of the profits before either the publisher or I get paid. But again, Ms. Sandberg alienated me here. When speaking up for herself, Ms. Sandberg used an example of when she was nine months pregnant she walked into the founder of Google’s office and demanded a parking space up front because she was too pregnant to walk from the back of the parking lot. I cheered with her in this example, but I found no personal relief. When I was nine months pregnant I was working in downtown Washington DC. I had gained 60 pounds on my small frame (picture below) and I could barely walk five feet without having the urge to pee, but I never had the option to walk into a CEO’s office and demand this. And in my current situation, I knew little me - a first time author - would merely burn the bridge with the publishing house for asking for this right. It wasn’t an option for me to Lean In.  

Factor #4: Commitment to the series

The Ancient Realm is a series of three books with the first one already available on Amazon. The publishers wanted to re-edit book 1 and re-publish it six months from now. Book 2 would be published six months later, and book 3 another six months. Ultimately, I told them I would agree to their contract as is if they guaranteed we could write out books 1-3 and publish them all at the same time. Currently young readers like to download all the author’s books in one sitting. They don't like to wait for the next one and often forget about the author if they do have to wait. The publishers said no.

I denied the contract over three weeks ago and I’m still wondering why. Having had a publishing house tell me my book was worth their time felt like a warm blanket had been wrapped around my shoulder and I was now a Star Bellied Sneetch being invited to sit at the campfire – I had been accepted – an industry professional believed in my writing. How did I turn my back on this? Easy, I told myself. You see, I had been there before, just in a different venue. When I was trying to make the U.S. Olympic Team in Whitewater Slalom the best coaches in the world told me every day they believed in me. But when I got into the start gate at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials and heard three, two, one, go, I was completely alone with only what I truly believed. I know this because everyone’s cheers and roars during my race runs did not get me on the Olympic Team. It was my self-doubts, and my self-doubts alone that prevented me from making it. The same is true today – the publishing house’s belief in my writing provides zero grantees. With a contract unevenly waited between publisher and author, I do feel confident in my decision to continue writing on my own.
Ultimately staying self-employed is the only avenue I have to create a working schedule that allows me to strive for my two ultimate goals: create the best family and create the ultimate career. Ms. Sandberg clearly implies that the reason why there are so few women at the top is because we don’t have the ambition to get there. F@*# you, Ms. Sandberg. No working mom, unless they are the boss or are self-employed can Lean In and create a working schedule where they will be able to thrive as a mom and a professional. Ms. Sandberg your book merely sells us an additional bullshit myth to the original myth that we can have it all. Until society realizes that when children’s school schedules do not meet working schedules (yes, it could be that simple), moms will not be able to lean in, and will continue to be torn apart – literally torn apart trying to be both moms and professionals and that is NOT healthy for society.
Bottom line: I gave Ms. Sandberg’s book five stars. Don’t get confused, she pissed me off, but she made me think. She made me think about the career I did give up to have children (future post). She presented horrid facts about how truly ripped apart a working mom is – how truly hard it is for any parent (both mom and dad) to climb the corporate ladder. And for the alone fact that Ms. Sandberg’s book truly inspired my 70-year-old mom, an original pioneer of Title IX and a gym teacher, I thank her for taking the time to write Lean In (despite all the help she has, I assure you, she is still stretched to a very unhealthy tension).
I do, however, encourage everyone to read Ms. Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic Journal, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. I personally felt that Ms. Slaughter is the very first professional to talk to me as opposed to down at me. I found incredible wisdom, relief, and courage in her article. Thank you to my dear sister-in-law, Tara Bahn who sent me the article when I was frustrated with Ms. Sandberg’s book. Tara is one of the incredibly talented females in today’s environmental legal field and a mother of two very young children. She’s on the front lines every day fighting for her career and her family. Now that Lean In, the fairy-tale version of a working C.O.O./mom has been published, I hope someone like Tara will write their story about what its like to be a working mom in the trenches. 

One of my best friends, Brent Wiesel perfectly dubbed this bathing suit, the shower curtain:) This is me, weighing in at 180 - about 8 months pregnant.

To view Sarah's middle grade fiction book click here: Paperback and Kindle 

4 comments:

Lisa Sali said...

Great post, Sarah! I appreciate your bluntness and honesty. I appreciated (what I've read so far) of Lean In, but that is as a non-mom climbing the corporate ladder. I think Ms. Sandberg is better at speaking to my audience than a working mom audience, because, as you point out, her situation as a working mom is far from the "norm" of what most women are trying to deal with. You are awesome! Can't wait to read your next books! I applaud your decision, and another publisher WILL come along. You have to do what's best for you.

Maryellen Pallow said...

Sarah this is fabulous! FABULOUS! I'm so glad that I read this. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself! Doing what is right for you and your family~~can't put a price on that! I loved THE ANCIENT REALM and I'll be right here waiting to see what happens next in that amazing world that you created!

Sarah Leith Bahn said...

Lisa and Maryellen - thank you so much for your comments! To have both of you enjoy this post means the world to me. Lisa - I agree with you - I appreciated a lot of Lean In, unfortunately the parts that got me riled up were the ones I'm the most passionate about. BUT Lean In is a great book regardless of how much I disagreed with. It was worth reading. THANK YOU for commenting!

Kelsey Harder said...

Sarah, you crack me up! I can totally envision you just getting pissed at Ms. Sandberg and her private jet! Ok, not hers...but the fact that that is even an option for travel is ridiculous! I would have LOVED for her to come hang out in our tiny little apartment for a few days and see what she would do out here. You are such a wonderful writer! I can hear your voice perfectly while I'm reading this. So proud of you for making that decision to say no!!