As a working mom, I’m about three years behind on my reading list. This is how I came to read Sheryl Sandburg’s book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead three years after it became a bestseller and sparked national debate over women and work.
Frankly, I could have made time to read Lean In earlier, but I was avoiding the book. It was published two months before I had my first child. I was leaning out of my career at that time. I didn’t want to read the book and feel guilty or like I had failed myself, my daughter, and all of womankind.
Fast forward three years, and I’m content in my career and happy with the decisions I’ve made along the way. I decided it was time to read Lean In. As a freelancer, I wasn’t sure if the book would have much relevance for me, but it was time to find out.
While some parts of the book are more applicable to women who work in traditional corporate jobs, there was plenty of juicy advice for freelancers and entrepreneurs. Here are six quotes from the book that felt most relevant, plus my take on how to apply the information to your freelance career.
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1. Share household duties.
“When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.”
This is solid advice for solo business owners. When you work from home, it can be easy to feel like you have to take on all of the household tasks and childcare. Resist! Hopefully if you’re married, you already married someone who wants an equal partner. Talk with your partner about the work each of you will do around the house. For example, at our house, my husband does all the cooking, and I do all the laundry.
Set boundaries for yourself and your family. Set aside time that is purely for work, and don’t let yourself get distracted by chores. Send the kids to daycare, or preschool, or summer camp so you have quiet time to focus. You owe it to yourself to treat your freelance business like the real job that it is. Plus, if you treat your business seriously, then your partner and kids will too.
2. Re-envision what a career looks like.
“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”
My husband works in a really traditional field, and sometimes I beat myself up over the fact that my freelance career doesn’t follow a traditional trajectory. As Sheryl points out, it’s better to view a career as a jungle gym, not a ladder.
As a freelancer or solo entrepreneur, there will be times when you move forward, times when you move laterally, and times when you’re just on pause. That’s the beauty of owning your own business, you have the flexibility to make your career work for you. Take advantage of the flexibility and let go of the idea that a career has to be a ladder.
3. Be more confident.
“Women need to shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that- and I’ll learn by doing it.”
Sheryl shares some startling statistics (how do you like that alliteration!?) about how men are much more likely than women to apply for jobs that they are only minimally qualified for.
As a freelancer, every time you pitch, you are applying for a new “job.” Push yourself to pitch for better-paying work, even if you feel under-qualified. You don’t need to be an expert to land freelance work. You just need to be good enough and willing to learn on the job. You’ll only raise your rates quickly if you consistently push yourself to take risks and try new things.
If you’re a solo entrepreneur, push yourself to take risks and try new things. Your confidence will grow as you learn.
4. Stop comparing.
“I have never met a woman, or man, who stated emphatically, ‘Yes, I have it all.’ Because no matter what any of us has—and how grateful we are for what we have—no one has it all.”
Preach, Sheryl! As business owners, we spend a lot of time online. It can be discouraging to see other people’s successes constantly splashed across social media. Just remember that the grass isn’t greener on the other side. No one has it all, even if they present themselves that way.
Own your decisions and be happy with what you do have. If you’re happy in your career, then don’t let anyone belittle your choice or accomplishments. If you’re not happy, then find a new job or stop working altogether. Remember that you’re in control.
5. Don’t take negative feedback personally.
“And in situations where a man and a woman each receive negative feedback, the woman’s self-confidence and self-esteem drop to a much greater degree. The internalization of failure and the insecurity it breeds hurt future performance, so this pattern has serious long-term consequences.”
Freelancers and small business owners get rejected. All the time. Especially in the early months of rejection, it hurts. We assume it means there is something wrong with us and with our work.
If you want your freelance career to be sustainable and successful, then it’s time to stop taking rejection and negative feedback personally. It’s okay to feel bummed out for a few minutes after a rejection, but then it’s time to push forward and get back to work. As Sheryl points out, don’t let rejection make you feel insecure, and don’t internalize negative feedback. It could have a long-term negative impact on your business.
6. Let other people help.
“As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home. I have seen so many women inadvertently discourage their husbands from doing their share by being too controlling or critical. Social scientists call this ‘maternal gatekeeping’ which is a fancy term for ‘Ohmigod, that’s not the way you do it! Just move aside and let me!’…Anyone who wants her mate to be a true partner must treat him as an equal–and equally capable partner. And if that’s not reason enough, bear in mind that a study found that wives who engage in gatekeeping behaviors do five more hours of family work per week than wives who take a more collaborative approach.”
I’ve been guilty of “maternal gatekeeping,” and apparently I’m not alone. If you’re someone who doesn’t let your spouse clean, cook, take care of the kids, etc., then you’re sabotaging yourself. If you have to do everything yourself, you have less time to work and less time to relax and recover for the next day.
For me, the biggest thing that has helped me relinquish control has been taking weekend trips without my husband and daughter. A few times a year, I’ve been lucky enough to attend friends’ weddings or go on a girls weekend. When my husband has a long weekend with our child by himself he gets more confident in his parenting and household management skills, our daughter bonds more with him, and I realize that nothing bad happens when I’m not micromanaging. A solo vacation helps me reset my expectations of what my husband can and should do around the house.
If you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, what’s the best thing you’ve done to lean in to your career? What advice can you share with the rest of us?