Monthly Archives: March 2014

Leadership in Lowercase

KathyAfter the recent brouhaha over Sheryl Sandberg’s Ban Bossy campaign, I looked over the website’s materials for girls, parents, and teachers. There’s a lot of good stuff there, urging girls to speak up about what’s important to them and giving adults strategies for helping them be heard.

I wouldn’t be sorry to see the word bossy fade away. I can see that fear of being called something negative could make some girls reluctant to speak up. But my bigger issue is with a word that’s all over the materials created by Sandberg and the Girl Scouts, who are co-sponsoring the campaign: Leadership.

I haven’t read Sandberg’s book Lean In, but I know she wants more women to hold positions of power in the corporate world. In the “Leadership Tips for Girls” handout on the Ban Bossy website, these numbers are front and center: Women make up just 19% of Congress, 17% of corporate boards, and 5% of Fortune 1,000 CEO positions. I don’t like those numbers any more than she does – I’d love to see women equally represented in government and business.

However. Not everyone wants to be that kind of leader. Obviously those big-ticket positions are not her only goal – there are many possible stepping stones or stopping points, so I’ll say this, too: Not everyone wants to be the director of a library division (a possible career trajectory for me if I hadn’t changed my path). Not everyone wants to be the head room parent for her daughter’s class.

A friend sent me this article from The Atlantic in response to Ban Bossy, which points out (again) that introverts can be excellent leaders, thank you very much. “[S]ome girls prefer to plot their world domination quietly,” notes Olga Khazan.

I agree with her that some tips in the handout for girls seem anti-quiet. #1, Speak Up in Class, with the added instruction of “Avoid editing what you want to say in your head” beforehand. Wha? Thanks for invalidating my entire thinking process.

Others, though, I really like. #7, Trust Your Inner Voice, recommends keeping a journal if you don’t want to share your thoughts out loud. Or #5, Don’t Do Everyone Else’s Work, which is essential for group projects at school but also a good reminder for parents who need to resist picking up everyone else’s dirty socks.

That’s where I think the emphasis on Leadership is missing the mark: these are not leadership tips, they’re life tips. The handout is full of techniques for being true to yourself and navigating relationships. Girls and boys should know this stuff. But I disagree that the logical next step after #3, Challenge Yourself, is Run Something.

Maybe you’d rather make jewelry, or research cures for cancer, or introduce kids to J. K. Rowling, or be the next J. K. Rowling.

Maybe you’d rather blog.

The handout notes that our society hasn’t quite figured out how powerful it wants girls to be. But there’s more than one way to be powerful, and I’m afraid some girls will read these materials and hear “Your way is wrong.” That’s not a message I want to send to my daughter, or to anyone else’s.

— Kathy

When “Being the Change” Doesn’t Feel Like Enough

KathyToday is Pancake Day, AKA the only day Doodlebug buys lunch at school. I’m fine that she doesn’t buy more often, because as far as I can tell the food her cafeteria serves is not that great. I know some schools in our county are revamping their menus to include fresh, local produce and food that’s prepared on-site, but most of her options seem to be precooked, highly processed food-like-substances. Like, for instance, maple-flavored pancakes that are microwaved in a plastic pouch. Blech.

So I was really interested when I came across info about a new cookbook aimed at school cafeteria workers in this month’s issue of Eating Well magazine. A group called Vermont FEED put together healthy recipes that are popular in school cafeterias, all in big-batch portions so other school cooks can use them too.

For a minute I got all dreamy-eyed, imagining what it would be like if Doodlebug’s cafeteria served things like Mac & Trees (with broccoli – cute!) or Carrot & Quinoa Muffins. Her school is starting a garden this year, maybe some of the plants are vegetables that could be incorporated into the lunch program? I could let the staff know about the cookbook, and maybe…

No. No no no no.

Because I know what happens. The person who suggests a cool new idea also gets put in charge of implementing said idea. I hate gardening, I hate being in charge of things, and I don’t need an extra project in my life right now. I’m barely maintaining a good balance between other people’s demands on my time and my own needs as it is. Step away from the cookbook, introvert!

And I did, but it kind of breaks my heart. There are lots of things like this in my life – things I feel strongly about, things I think I should be advocating for, things I always end up leaving for someone else to take the lead on. If another parent saw this same article and started whipping our school lunches into shape, I’d help. In my small way. But spearheading the entire effort? No way, not me.

I’ve always liked the quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” (It’s usually attributed to Gandhi, although he may not have ever said it.) After my momentary flirtation with the cookbook idea, I had to remind myself that my smaller efforts are not worthless. Did I send organic apple slices and yogurt to Brownies last month for snack? Yes. Did I make from-scratch cupcakes with real ingredients for Doodlebug’s class on Valentine’s Day? Yes. Am I voting with my pocketbook by not having her buy lunch in the cafeteria more than once a month? Yes.

Am I worried that that last paragraph is obnoxious? Yes, and I know that’s part of my problem – sometimes I stick with being the change because I don’t want anyone else to feel bad about their choices. (And let me point out that we are definitely not perfect. There are currently five boxes of Girl Scout cookies in our pantry.) But the bigger reason is that I just don’t have the energy or personality for leading a huge project.

Maybe it’s like Susan Cain’s theory about introverts and public speaking – she argues that, once you find Your Topic, the thing you’re truly passionate about, talking about it to big groups becomes easier. Maybe I just haven’t found My Topic yet, the thing I’d be willing to upend my life to advocate for. In the meantime I’ll just be here, packing lunches, typing to other people who (hopefully) understand why I’m not doing more.

— Kathy

Gold Leader, Stay on Target

KathyFor the past few weeks I’ve been taking time off from my novel. I think/hope I’m getting close to finishing it, but I need a little distance before I can say for sure. So while the manuscript sits, untinkered with, on my computer, I’ve been catching up on the household stuff that fell by the wayside when I was in writing mode. Basically this has meant wrestling the craft room into submission and laundering All The Things, including that layer of miscellaneous stuff at the bottom of the hamper. Allllmost there…

Blocking out separate time for work and housework is a good strategy for me (and I know I’m lucky to have so much control over my schedule). I wish I could do it on a smaller scale, like maybe taking one day a week to work on house projects and spending the rest of my time on writing so I wouldn’t get so far behind. Unfortunately, my brain isn’t so good at that. When I get into a project, I like to stick with it until I’m finished, or at least until I reach a good stopping point.

Maybe it’s a writer thing – it’s important to stay immersed in your story, and I definitely lose momentum if I’m not writing regularly. It took me over five years to finish the writing project I started when I was pregnant with Doodlebug. This was partly because I’d chosen to focus on my mom role, but also because I had a hard time snapping out of it unless I got a big chunk of writing time. And I don’t mean two-hour-nap big. I mean Grandma’s-here-for-the-day big.

I’m sure it doesn’t help that introverts are at a disadvantage when it comes to switching gears. In this post, Susan Cain notes that we aren’t as good as extroverts at processing stimuli, mostly because we’re not just observing, we’re also evaluating at the same time. And – soapbox alert – multitasking isn’t really possible anyway. People’s brains can’t do more than one thing at a time, so what we’re really doing is switching back and forth over and over again.

And what is parenting except switching between a million different activities, sometimes from one minute to the next? This has been one of the hardest things for me, especially because you often can’t plan ahead. Short nap? Call from school saying your kid has a fever? You have to go into a different mode RIGHT NOW. It’s enough to make you crash your X-wing.

So I try to minimize as many distractions as I can. Putting down my phone and stepping away from social media for a few hours each evening is still key for me. Leaving enough time to get things done (like getting out the door in the morning) is important, too – worrying about being late doesn’t help anybody. And I’m thrilled that we’ve been listening to music more often, but I know that if I really need to focus on something, I still need to turn it off. If I’m not already bombarded by unnecessary attention-grabbers, it’s easier to be present when I’m in parenting mode.

Do you have trouble switching gears, too? Do you find it affects your parenting? And don’t you want this on a t-shirt now?

— Kathy