This summer I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. It’s all about women in the workplace, especially in executive positions. Overall it was an interesting, and sometimes depressing, read. But there was a concept she wrote about for about a page that has stuck with me for months. She shared a story of going to a meeting. In the room was a long table surrounded by high-back, leather chairs, and surrounding the table was another circle of chairs for people who couldn’t fit around the table. She wrote that in this meeting all of the women took a seat in the outer circle of chairs, away from the action. It wasn’t that the men were keeping them from the table. It was that they chose to take a back seat and allowed the meeting to happen without their presence around the table.
It’s been eight months since I read this story, and I still feel as if I was in the room with Mrs. Sandberg. Because I’ve been there. I’ve taken a backseat in meetings, in friendships, in daily life, not because someone was keeping me from joining the conversation or the group. I chose not to be present. I chose not to lean in.
For eight months I’ve been thinking about this and wondering why. Why don’t I lean in? Why don’t I show up?
Oh vulnerability, I thought I had you figured out. I read books about you. I listened to Ted Talks about you. I’ve had hours of conversation about you. I’ve had relationships built upon moment after moment of you. And then I graduated from college and you began to show up in areas of my life that I didn’t remember giving you the key to. I moved back to my hometown and felt less and less at home. I was at square one again in most every friendship that survived the distance of college. I got a job where I was asked to participate in meetings and give input, and where I was asked to create creative material and submit it for critique by people and a system I barely knew. I was expected to be myself when it felt like “myself” was stuck somewhere between The Bridge Cafe and Bergwall Hall.
And then I remembered that life and relationships and anything good is built upon moment after moment of vulnerability.
We grow when we show up.
When we lean in.
When we exhale.
When we release the internal tension threatening to break us to our core.
We grow when we allow ourselves to be seen by people who have known us for years and the people who have known us for a hot second.
Somehow I forgot about that, and I floundered and stumbled. It was discomfort on a day-to-day basis because there is vulnerability in everyday. It felt like starting over in the worst way possible.
Yet, eight months after graduating, I’m beginning to see a new side to vulnerability. There’s a new framework. I now longer need to show up and be known in a dorm room, in a class room, on a staff of college students.
I’m learning what it means to show up and be seen at work, the place I spend 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week. It’s the place where people are 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 years older than me. Nothing feels like a bucket of cold water being thrown over your head than moving from a floor of 60 college girls to a workplace where the average age is 40. They are incredible, and they’re stuck with me: adult in training.
I’m learning what it means to show up and be seen with the people who have known me for years, the people who walked with me through the early years, the awkward middle school years, the terrible high school years. And now I’ve experienced the growing college years without them. It’s like getting reacquainted with a life that almost seems familiar.
I’m learning what it means to show up and be seen with my family, the people who have been my constant supporters. Nobody warned me about the strange vulnerability it would take to relearn how to do life together. Maybe college grads avoid this vulnerability. But there’s something valuable about leaning in, about coming to the table, about being seen by family.
There’s a life that comes after graduation that I think people tried to prepare me for. Each college grad’s situation is different. Some of my friends moved to towns hundreds of miles away from home. Some moved back in with their parents. But with everyone, there’s a level of leaning in, of pressing into vulnerability because without this vulnerability, life is fairly meaningless. Relationships lack depth. They lack color. They lack flavor. And I’m finding that far more than a job, relationships are the lifeblood of existence. They are the inhales and exhales. They are the heartbeats of daily life.
So I’m learning to lean in, to be seen.
And I’m learning that it’s good to be an adult who doesn’t care what other people think. It’s more fun that way.