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There is so much hullabaloo over Sheryl Sandburg’s book, “Lean In”that I decided to look through it to understand reasons for the fuss.

Much of her premise, that women essentially underestimate and undersell themselves, is familiar to me –  having either read about it over time or witnessed those characteristics in person throughout my career.  I’m among those of my gender mates labeled “ambitious” and have been ‘affectionately’ called a bitch from time to time because I accept authority easily and hold others accountable.  Those traits are more difficult to come by in women and I don’t know whether that’s due to nature or nurture, frankly.  But I can say that I’ve identified more strongly with men than women over the years and seem to have nurtured more professional friends of the opposite sex.

It’s true that men are raised with the expectation of earning a living and supporting their families.   The more money he can make, the better lifestyle he can provide.  They’re also taught to be strong and to assume power as their birthright.  I’m talking power over their destiny because that’s the role of a man.  Of course there are always going to be the artistic types who defy society’s expectations.  It’s my guess that swimming against that tide for those men can probably be as difficult as for the woman who aspires to take control of her life and aim for an office in the corporate executive suite.  Both are defying stereotypes and that usually involves swimming upstream.

But I think there’s a real distinction to be made between men assuming power as a birthright and actually having real self-confidence.  Portraying strength is an image they learn to cultivate.  But dig a little deeper and discover that many of those fellas don’t actually feel strong inside.  Some drink to ease their tension and muster courage.  And though Sandburg attributes self-doubt to women, there are many men who also feel like frauds internally and learn to compensate for that by networking with other men to create quid pro quo relationships.  You do this for me … I do this for you.  It’s the way of their corporate world – developing allies to protect their backs and help them succeed.  It’s their understood reality.

Sandberg writes that men will attribute their success to innate qualities and skills.  Women will say they got lucky, or worked really hard or had help from others.  When asked about failure a man will say he wasn’t interested enough or didn’t study enough where women might attribute failure to an inherent lack of ability.

I’d like to suggest that only women are telling the truth in those two examples.  Because men are raised to “fake it till you make it” it’s natural for him to continue to put his best foot forward to preserve his image while women are better able to absorb what could be the objective truth.  Nobody reaches the pinnacle of a profession alone.  Good timing has always played a role as well as people who’ve helped – either directly or as part of a team.  Think of any successful man in the world, read his bio and examine the team around him throughout his career.  Smart leaders choose the right people with whom to surround themselves.

The fact is, corporate America is used to having men in charge.  There’s a style of conducting business that’s well suited to a man’s psyche because men created it.  Women have always had to fit in to play the game.  And some women are comfortable with that role while others aren’t and there are plenty of guys who will never become part of the executive suite either.

My mother always told me that I could do anything I wanted and she ‘knew’ I’d be successful at it.  My father owned a business and was clearly comfortable being in charge.  Maybe as a combination of nurture and nature I’ve also been comfortable as a leader.  And yes, with hard work, good timing, smart choices, help from people who believed in me and success over the years I’ve achieved a professional self-confidence too.  But more important to me than climbing to the very top of an organization was keeping a close distance to the product we were creating, in my case, television projects.  That’s where I found my joy and the idea of being relegated to a business office overseeing a couple of levels of management who managed the product was not my idea of fun.  So I climbed as high as I wanted to and the money I made was better than most, certainly good enough to pay for all my expenses and all of my conservative wants.  I’ve never been a big acquirer.

So a corner office with a view in the executive wing was not what I aspired to.  And there are plenty of other women … and men … whose passions lead them in other directions too.  We don’t all have to run companies to make a difference in lives and our communities.  As long as we’re paying attention to the beat of our own drums and fearlessly living our lives, I believe we’re leaning in.

The real take away from her book might be an invitation to women to dream big, feel their fears and do it anyway.  That’s what most of the male species does and women are equally capable as they.

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Hands collaborating in co-writing or co-editin...

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That’s what we were asked to write about at the beginning of our creative non-fiction writing class.  Sheese, what a question.  I actually didn’t think writing meant anything to me.  It’s not like I exist to write or anything.  I’m not burning with desire to spin a phrase or wax poetic.  Poetry isn’t my thing, really.  I appreciate certain poems that speak to my heart, though some are so esoteric that the author’s meaning totally escapes me.

“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”

Edwin Schlossberg

I do spend a lot of time in my head.  Considering various angles, hidden perspectives, alternative viewpoints intrigues me.  In fact, somebody once told me I “think too much.”  Often, when reading, I’ll put a book down and think about what the author just said, especially when it’s an insightful nugget.  Sometimes the mulling process drives me to the computer to google more material and learn about the author’s background.  It’s fair to say I love to think.  And I love to talk to other people who think. Then finding the right words to communicate thoughts percolating in my mind offers the ultimate satisfaction.  Like eating an utterly delicious dinner followed by the perfect cup of coffee.

“The best style is the style you don’t notice.”

Somerset Maugham

I tend to write the way I talk, direct.  And as anybody who knows me will tell you – I usually have a lot to say.  My head gets full of things I want to say and one creative outlet is to tap them out on a keyboard.  That might be why I write, actually, to release the thoughts swirling in my head.  It’s one of the things that turned me on about making television shows, the opportunity to offer information that inspired people to think.  We humans were born with the ability to ponder anything and everything and words give that pondering voice.

 “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”  Ben Franklin

Writing also offers artful expression.  Just as a painting or a beautiful dance evoke emotion in the observer, so can a well crafted piece of prose.  The talented writers find  beautiful compositions of words to paint exactly the pictures (or worlds) they want to communicate.  Many times I’ll stop reading something that I’m totally absorbed in just to marvel at the way it’s written.  I love talent – whatever form it comes in.  And when a writer’s able to hold me hostage in the world she’s created – I’m hers … or his … and I’m filled with admiration.  Do yourselves a favor and check out Roger Ebert‘s blog from time to time.  He’s among the best! (http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/)

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Mark Twain

 

I’m always searching for the right word and I love when it occurs to me.  For me reading and writing are a matched pair.  There’s always a lot to learn from a good writer — insightful information and, by example, tips on good writing.  I enjoy practicing the craft, letting the keyboard go where my thoughts take me – like a kite to the wind.


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Sheet music to "Give My Regards"

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Lately I’ve started writing much more than years past (have you noticed this blog?) It feels like the right creative outlet especially as I explore this new period in my life, Act Three.

Creative expression has always been a driving force for me. When I was a kid I dreamed of singing and dancing on Broadway – heck, I’ll say it, I wanted to be a star.  My mother schlepped me to auditions all the time, each with the same heartbreaking result – CHORUS! Evidently my voice sounded great to me and had I been the casting director I’d have won the lead hands down.  But – c’est la vie.  As each heartbreak gave way to the next bout of courage and the next resounding NO THANKS I finally figured it out.  My future wasn’t going to be on stage.  Time to move on … and then I discovered… back stage!

Voila!  Back stage became the perfect fit — stage manager, show producer – change to radio producer, on to TV producer, then into management, and on to departmental leadership.  Once I set my new sights I started hearing yes yes yes yes, which is a lot more fun than a childhood filled with no’s.

A passion was ignited and my drive was born.  I couldn’t get enough of work – it’s all I wanted and the only thing I did.  Weekdays consisted of a minimum of 12 hour days and weekends were spent perusing magazines, newspapers, books or watching TV – all in search of the next great idea for a show or a promotion or a special or a series.  And I never got tired of it until … I did.   More than 30 years later.

Shockingly my drive has let me go.  It no longer consumes my waking hours, nor does it deprive me of sleep.  I’m blissfully free of its grasp.  And I don’t miss nor mourn it.  I’m enjoying the sense of freedom from the need to keep pushing.

Equally surprising is that my interest in making a creative contribution hasn’t waned.  In fact it’s starting to blossom again.  But it’s not associated with need to do.  It’s more like inspired to do.

Is it possible that I’ve actually kissed my drive goodbye?  I guess time will tell.

How about you?  What drives you?

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