The Success Sacrifice

My father was an executive and worked in the boardrooms of America. After spending my childhood observing his career I came to one startling observation,  if you want to achieve ultimate success in ANY FIELD — professional sports, acting, politics, OR BUSINESS — it comes at extreme sacrifice.  You show me a CEO, or COO and you will show me somebody who has been divorced and was NEVER around their children.  You show me a professional athlete or actor or politician and you will see the same thing.  REGARDLESS OF GENDER.  My father could have been CEO or COO but wasn’t willing to make those sacrifices.  And yet, even with his moderate success ask me how many Halloweens he was home for?  None. Ask me how many birthdays he missed? Many.  Ask me about him commuting to San Francisco FROM DETROIT for two years.  Ask me about the times my mother would call him “Uncle Daddy”.

So when I started reading Penelope Trunk’s blog post on Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” I wanted to scream ‘YES!’.  For those who are unfamiliar with this book I will give you a summary, Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and tells women that they need to “lean into” their careers not out.  She makes the argument that as women we are failing the women’s movement by opting out of careers.  She makes it sound all lovely and easy as if anybody can do it but that is what makes the book myopic and unrealistic. Penelope states:

“Most kids cannot have huge jobs. They will be the workplace equivalent of intramural basketball players. When they grow up, they will find work that is fine, just like it’s fine to play on a team with the kid across the hallway even though he misses too many lay-ups.”

Sandberg expresses her disappointment in women but she doesn’t mention her 100 hour weeks, her multiple nannies, and how little she sees her family.  She mentions that she leaves at 5:30 to have dinner with her kids but doesn’t mention who cooks that dinner and who does the dishes after dinner and who reviews homework and packs lunches and backpacks and does the laundry.  I’m fairly confident she doesn’t do ANY of those things. And Penelope said it perfectly:

Sheryl Sandberg gives up her kids like movie stars give up food: she wants a great career more than anything else.

The conversation we have as a society doesn’t need to be about women leaning in or leaning out,  but about the sacrifice ALL people make when achieving this level of success.  Women seem less willing to make that sacrifice, and yes, part of that is biological and part of that is cultural.  But there are many men who also choose less demanding careers so they can be more active with their families and we don’t see society squealing in shock at this choice.

I love my father, and we have a very close relationship.  A relationship he worked hard at maintaining over long distances. However, he will be the first one to tell you that he isn’t sure he would make the same choices over again.  Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that Sheryl Sandberg has somehow managed to “have it all” because that is a myth. She has a career, and that is great, but there are other things she does NOT have.

 

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