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Remembering How to Lean In – Like a Little Girl

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The truth is, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because you have to decide what you want, not “them,” not “the racists,” not “the sexists.”

By Carla Rover (Editor, The Advertising Technology Review)

Do you remember how stubborn you were as a child? Probably every night, if you were like me, you had another completely original idea why you didn’t need to go to bed just yet. You raised the same – but slightly different – brilliant idea every evening, completely unaffected by the fact that you rarely, if ever, won.

You can’t win in American business, as an entrepreneur or an executive, unless you maintain that same child-like unwillingness to fail.

Here are 4 time-tested rules for “leaning in” the right way.

Rule #1 – Stop wanting the world to have a crush on you.

Little girls, before they hit the age when boys go from “gross” to “hot” are stubborn little things. They don’t care that the boys may think, or even tell them, that they are dumb, weak or just plain incapable. They will stake out a territory, band together, and defend their corner of the sandbox, gym or pool.

They not only do not feel bad about not being “one of the boys,” they have no expectations of becoming “one of the boys.” Try telling a band of little girls in full-on Barbie dress-up mode that they probably wouldn’t fit in with their brothers’ or dads’ football tailgate party dressed like that and see if anyone utters a defeated sob.

We only learn that being liked, validated and understood is a correlate of our “worthiness” to be where we are when we hit the age when we are instructed that there is an invisible glass ceiling designed to send us out on our butts if we get too ambitious. We wait for a sign that it will all be OK and we become crestfallen when our revolutionary ideas are ignored and a faux pas is trumpeted. Get over it.

Little girls know: Some people, perhaps many people won’t “get” you, appreciate you or cheer you on. Get your own group and get the job – whatever it is – done.

Rule #2 – Stop playing dress-up.

Many women suffer from a sense of insufficiency – as do many men. Unfortunately, because of the way we are socialized in America, you will rarely see a man in the bathroom sobbing hysterically because his wife hesitated when he asked if he looked fat in his suit. Women are taught to ask permission to be OK in their skin and then we carry that over to business.

We expect perfection of ourselves and assume that the world does too. We become obsessed with proving that we are not inadequate and end up falling over ourselves to prove our detractors wrong – instead of focusing on how talented and hard-working we actually are.

Notice how little girls play with dolls that have deep, rich, elaborate emotional lives? They don’t apologize for the fact that Barbie has a bizarre, contradictory relationship with Ken, or that the girls from Monster High have some issues with choosing appropriate clothing. Little girls embrace the imagined personalities and foibles of their playthings completely.

When they grow up, however, girls are taught to judge themselves relentlessly, granting themselves no breaks in their incessant, unflinching criticism of their lives, abilities and relationships. This attitude is toxic in business. A CEO who thought the way we teach young women to judge themselves would leap from his window the first time his stock dipped. Embrace your original, irreproducible personality.

Celebrate your biography. Now enter the world with out apologies – or concern – that you need to take on a faux personality in order to be “worthy” of fulfilling your goals.

Little girls know: A brilliant life is one that is led by someone who loves and believes in her own ability – not only to achieve, but to receive whatever life hands her, perfectly or imperfectly.

#3 – Stop believing the grown-ups.

You will never stop a little girl from playing with her Barbie dream house by telling her she isn’t reflecting traditional images of power and influence, so why should she be intimidated later in a work environment because she isn’t male? Because she’s learned that to be free to succeed, you have to be adored. She believes that someone else grants you the “right” to progress and success. The statistics will bludgeon the happy ambition right out of you.

How many female CEOs are there on Wall Street? How many female-led startups are funded? Ask anyone these questions and you’ll get a barrage of reasons why people who look like me (and maybe you) never make it out of the starting gate. I can tell you that the first thing that you have to realize is that all of those exhaustive reasons why their are 99 chances out of 100 that you will fail are all baloney.

You can do this if you decide that you will not fail. You have to take your power back. You have to believe that it is only you who decides if you get what you want – and maybe what you want is more income or a successful business, but either way your faith will drive your talent to put you where you belong, if you allow it. That is a big “if” because women are always asking, rather than doing.

Many times it is because we are taught to be quiet, to ask permission, to not make waves. The other reason is that we believe this is a man’s world. We see ourselves as highly intelligent, hardworking beggars asking for permission to enter their domain. When we position ourselves like this in the minds of others by our demeanor, our unquestioning submission and our lack of faith in our ideas, we are, without fail, doomed to be seen as children.

Little girls know: Grownups want you to remain a child until they decide you are “big enough.” That can’t happen anymore.

Rule #4 – Speak up.

We don’t ask for help because we are afraid to be seen as weak. We don’t fight for our ideas because we don’t want to be seen as the b-word. We bully ourselves internally before we even have a chance to try out believing in ourselves. Adults, sometimes, make up scary stories to keep children out of areas or situations that they deem inappropriate.

Now translated to the business or entrepreneurial world, that might mean that women are taught that there are so few women in the boardroom because something about “women” is so contrary to leadership that we just can’t get in. We might also have heard that women just can’t pitch for venture capital or inspire confidence. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because you have to decide what you want, not “them,” not “the racists,” not “the sexists.”

It may seem crazy, but you have to give yourself permission to be loud. Not rude, not hysterical – just loud enough to be heard. Ask questions. Support your own ideas. Don’t bow your head and act embarrassed if you make a mistake- apologize and move on. Stop believing that you must be seen but not heard. When someone acts rudely, be calm, be polite, but don’t shrivel. Does someone act as if you are not there – return the favor, politely and make sure that your ideas are heard.

Little girls know: Sometimes you have to shout to be heard above the fray.

Photo credit: Patrick on Flickr.

Women 2.0 readers: What rule from childhood have you forgotten that you can utilize to “lean in” – like a girl?

About the guest blogger: Carla Rover is a Communications Director in New York City, Previously she was the Publisher of The Advertising Technology Review. She is a freelance programmer and web developer, specializing in social media platforms. She studied international relations at NYU and law and political economy at The University of Oxford, St. Catherine’s College. Follow her on Twitter at @carlarover.