As a young woman, for as long as I can remember, I have been advocating women's rights in both my personal and academic life. From ensuring I was given the same opportunities as the boys in my classes during school to supporting basic women's rights from choosing abortion to going on the pill. Equality is what I base my morals and principles on, and as I'm enjoying my Easter vacation from university, I thought I would join in with the endless supporters and critics of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's new book "Lean In", and see for myself if Sandberg really had anything important to say.
After less than two days of non-stop reading; in bed, on the bus and at the hairdressers, I can tell you all that everything Sandberg has to say in "Lean In" is important. It's about equality. It's motivational. It's inspiring. It's thought provoking. It's a book that everyone should read, regardless of gender, ethnicity or age.
I'm near to completing my first year at university and at just 20 I can relate to so many of the issues that Sandberg discusses, including; what we, as women, would sacrifice to be likable and the real consequences of the choices we make. It is so imperative for our future selves that we embrace university and truly "Lean In." No more dipping our toes into the pools of societies, volunteering and seminars. No more worrying about if our peers agree with our opinions on a certain authors work. No more holding back our true selves for fear of being disliked.
At the beginning of the book, Sandberg quotes president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Judith Roden; "My generation fought so hard to give you all your choices. We believe in choices. But choosing to the leave the workforce was not the choice we thought so many of you would make." This one quote really affected me and is something that I've been contemplating since finishing the book. It was definitely my choice to attend university yet I know so many people who felt pressured by their family or by society to attend. I think, regardless of your feelings towards university, it is your choice to be happy and to make the most of your three or four years studying.
I remember Fresher's week at university and I was utterly dreading it. I mean, dreading it to the point where I planned a three-day long trip to London to avoid spending too much time on campus. Anyway, I remember meeting some of my flatmates for the first time and I immediately felt self-conscious. Now, usually I'm a very confident person. I laugh a lot and I don't take myself too seriously. I'm vehemently proud of my achievements, yet for most of my university life so far, I'm downplayed everything I've done. I remember recently sitting with a group of friends and the subject of parenting came up and I gave my opinion. My friends were surprised at my knowledge and when I explained I had been an Au Pair in America for a period of time, they were surprised. I had not discussed a lot of my achievements because I was worried I would be disliked for it. Sandberg gets this and she writes; "In order to protect ourselves from being disliked, we question our abilities and downplay our achievements, especially in the presence of others."
My main two suggestions for how to "Lean In" at university are as follows:
1. Voice your opinions.
If you are one of the few people who actually turn up to seminars with your work completed, kudos to you. However, even the most organised person may not be completely present. By present I mean actually voicing your opinions. It's time we start raising our hands and joining in class discussions. Your opinion on a certain subject matter or text may not be the general consensus but it doesn't make it any less valid. Don't just silently agree with a peer or your seminar leader; vocalize it.
2. Join in.
Your time at university is the main time in your life you can try anything new and not be judged for it. Use this free-pass to fully embrace and enjoy new things. Join an unusual society or group, attend the free seminars on career development or Darwin's opinion of sex (yes, my university actually did have a talk on this) and maybe even learn a new language. By joining in you're not only making the most of your time, you're making new friends which is essential for future networking, you're building self-confidence and you're doing something you're future self will thank you for.
I want to finish this blog post with a final quote from "Lean In" that I think is the epitome of the book, of women's rights and of equality in general. "If I had to embrace a definition of success, it would be that success is making the best choices we can... and accepting them."