It occurred to me as I was reading Lean In that sometimes a woman's strength is shown by stepping out—or "leaning back" as it has been described.
I sat in the counseling office of my high school, where the male counselor told my mother, "She'll never be a lawyer." I leaned as far back from that small minded town as fast I could. (He was right. I never became a lawyer. But I did get As—and professor kudos—in my law classes in college.)
I told my parents I was leaving college: leaning back for a while so I could figure out what I really wanted to do. "You should join the Army," my Dad said. "If you drop out now, you can't expect it to be easy." (He was right, it was hard—and I lost a lot of credits because of it, which meant I spent more years and money in school than I would have liked to. But I came back, landed a paid job as editor of the University's newspaper while finishing classes, and gained experiences that gave me confidence to pursue whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. On my terms.)
"You can't just move to Boston and expect to get a job that easy," a college professor told me the second time around. I couldn't wait to graduate and move to Boston. (And he was right, it wasn't that easy to get a job—I couldn't get into the PR firm I wanted until I moved. So I took a low paying, low self-esteem retail job to prove how serious I was, worked there and leaned back (that is, quit) a month later when I landed the big firm job I had wanted.)
In the HR Director's office of the PR firm at which I first worked, I explained I was leaving—I intended to lean back (that is, resign) and start my own firm. "You don't have enough experience, you have no idea how hard it is," she told me. (She was right. I probably didn't have enough experience—but I had enough gusto. And I definitely did not know how hard it was. 15 years later, I'm still at it.)
"You can't just fire that client. They pay you $35k a month!" said a colleague. But the years of abuse and disrespect to me and my staff wasn't worth it—so I leaned back and shocked the heck out of them when I resigned the account on my terms. (She was right, they paid us $35k a month and that's a nice chunk of change for a small firm. But no amount of money is worth my ethics, my principles or my happiness—and I protect my staff in the same manner.)
"You can't get divorced. It's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is a poor man, don't be crazy," said a relative when I announced I had filed for divorce. (And she was right, it is just as easy to fall in love with a rich man. But no man, regardless of his financial capabilities, can make you happy with gifts if the respect, partnership and supportive love aren't there. I'm no desperate housewife.)
I've spent most of my life leaning back—that is, stepping out of situations that weren't right for me—even when everyone else thought I was crazy. Sometimes leaning in to get what you want means making the hard decisions to go against the grain. Follow your own path and believe what you know to be true—not just what society tells you to do.