As a young woman running a fast-growing technology start-up, I feel like I am in a room of mirrors that reflect and magnify my questions and insecurities, with a flimsy floor that I can fall through if I’m not careful. How can I be more assertive without being aggressive? How do I balance my maternal instincts with the need to be the enforcer and final decision-maker as CEO? How do I present myself physically to reinforce the gravitas that I need to succeed? How do I do so without losing my femininity, my identity? Every day is a battle with the perceptions around me, and with the little voice in my head that suggests everyone around me must have realized I’ve pulled off the most elaborate con in the world by founding this company and daring to lead it.
Who does she think she is at age 26?
How can she not be more of a killer? I’ve decided I don’t like her.
How can she not be more of a pleaser? I’ve decided I don’t like her.
Isn’t it time for her to settle down and have children?
The messages are mixed and often discouraging.
Leaning in is more than an abstract concept to me - it is my mantra day in and day out. There is not a morning that goes by where I don’t have to pick myself up with these two words and stay focused on success at the end of the tunnel, whether I’m excited, exhausted, plagued by personal problems, or free of cares.
Leaning in means pushing forward when others push back and doubt me.
Leaning in means believing in who I am as a person, and accepting that I can’t always be liked by everyone (but that hard work and integrity will earn me their respect).
Leaning in means learning to subdue the counterproductive voice in my own mind.
Leaning in means learning to forgive myself for not being perfect and disallowing that from holding me back from being at least great.
Leaning in means doing justice - as the first woman in my family to graduate from college - to my grandmother and mother’s lack of opportunity to do so.
If I don’t set the example that I am leaning in far, I can’t expect the organization I am leading to succeed. I have to reset this drive every single day. In a startup like mine, the only way to stay in the same place is to run for your life, and to do so with the incredible individuals who have chosen to buy into your vision of what we’re collectively running towards.
And in that series of interminable sprints, my two-word mantra keeps me going.