Lean in and take the lead

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, recently gave the Commencement Address at New York’s Barnard College. We thought her words of wisdom, especially for women in the working world, might inspire you too…

Sheryl Sandberg speech

Sheryl Sanberg gives Barnard College's Commencement Address.

“You are privileged in the most important sense of the word, which is that you have almost boundless opportunity in front of you.  So, the question is, what are you going to do with it?”

Find something you love doing

Sandberg’s hope for every graduate was that they lean into their career…

“You’re going to find something you love doing, and you’re going to do it with gusto.  You’re going to pick your field and you’re going to ride it all the way to the top.”

“So, what advice can I give you to help you achieve this goal?  The first thing is I encourage you to think big.”

The ambition gap

According to Sandberg, studies show that men are more ambitious than women…

“They’re more ambitious the day they graduate from college; they remain more ambitious every step along their career path.  We will never close the achievement gap until we close the ambition gap.  But if all young women start to lean in, we can close the ambition gap right here, right now, if every single one of you leans in.  Leadership belongs to those who take it.”

Sandberg also encourages female graduates to believe in themselves, because studies show that, compared to men, women underestimate their performance…

“Ask a woman why she did well on something, and she’ll say, “I got lucky.  All of these great people helped me.  I worked really hard.”  Ask a man and he’ll say or think, “What a dumb question.  I’m awesome.”  So women need to take a page from men and own their own success.”

You are awesome

“If you remember nothing else today, remember this:  You are awesome.  I’m not suggesting you be boastful. No one likes that in men or women.  But I am suggesting that believing in yourself is the first necessary step to coming even close to achieving your potential.”

Sandberg warned that thinking big, owning your success, and leading may require some personal sacrifice…

“Men make far fewer compromises than women to balance professional success and personal fulfillment.  That’s because the majority of housework and childcare still falls to women.”

Forge your own path

“Of course not everyone wants to jump into the workforce and rise to the top.  Life is going to bring many twists and turns, and each of us, each of you, have to forge your own path.  I have deep respect for my friends who make different choices than I do, who choose the really hard job of raising children full time, who choose to go part time, or who choose to pursue more nontraditional goals.  These are choices that you may make some day, and these are fine choices.”

“But until that day, do everything you can to make sure that when that day comes, you even have a choice to make.  Because what I have seen most clearly in my 20 years in the workforce is this:  Women almost never make one decision to leave the workforce.  It doesn’t happen that way.”

“They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there.  Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day.  Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.”

“These women don’t even have relationships, and already they’re finding balance, balance for responsibilities they don’t yet have.  And from that moment, they start quietly leaning back.  The problem is, often they don’t even realize it.”

Lean in

“If you work for some guy who you used to sit next to, and really, he should be working for you, you’re going to feel undervalued, and you won’t come back.  So, my heartfelt message to all of you is, and start thinking about this now, do not leave before you leave.  Do not lean back; lean in.”

“Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision.  That’s the only way, when that day comes, you’ll even have a decision to make.”

Sandberg said that only you can decide if the rat race is worthwhile or if you’re just buying into someone else’s definition of success, and you’ll have to decide it over and over again…

“But if you think it’s a rat race, before you drop out, take a deep breath.  Maybe you picked the wrong job. Try again.  And then try again.  Try until you find something that stirs your passion, a job that matters to you and matters to others.  It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution.  It’s also a very clear path to happiness.”

Think big and dream big

“The one thing I’ve learned working with great entrepreneurs—Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google—that if you want to make a difference, you better think big and dream big, right from day one.”

“Don’t let your fears overwhelm your desire.  Let the barriers you face—and there will be barriers—be external, not internal.  Fortune does favor the bold, and I promise that you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try.”

“I hope you find true meaning, contentment and passion in your life.  I hope that you navigate the hard times and you come out with greater strength and resolve.  I hope that whatever balance you seek, you find it with your eyes wide open.  And I hope that you—yes, you—each and every one of you have the ambition to run the world, because this world needs you to run it.”

Go do it

“I know that’s a big challenge and responsibility, a really daunting task, but you can do it.  You can do it if you lean in.  So go home tonight and ask yourselves, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?”  And then go do it.”