What “Lean In” Got Right: It’s a Jungle (Gym) Out There

If you’re a regular reader of my posts, you know that my major criticism of Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” is that she didn’t provide enough realistic advice for regular folks trying to balance work and life, and I like other books better for such actionable advice.

However, I did relate with much in the book, especially one particular point that I believe is great career –and life – advice for women and men alike: Realize that it’s a jungle gym out there. In other words, think about your career – and your life – not as a ladder, but rather as a jungle gym where you can create your own path to the top and to achieving happiness.

Sandberg writes: “There’s only one way to get to the top of a ladder, but there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. . . .The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment.”

The vast majority of successful women I meet have taken this “jungle gym” route to navigating their careers, and as many of you know, I’ve had a varied career myself. My professional bio will tell you that I studied accounting and was a CPA, but it will not tell you the wonderfully amusing stories of the farmers that I worked with in Oklahoma, or that I took a couple of years off when my children were young.

It will mention that I was a lawyer, but it will neglect to mention that I worked my way through college as a legal secretary and paralegal.  If you go even further back in time, I’ve had stints in fast food joints, cleaning Laundromats and washing dishes.

Climbing around the jungle gym – even if I never get to the top – has afforded me some spectacular vistas along the way at many different socioeconomic stratums, and each step of my varied path has led me to my next one in unexpected ways. In fact, if I didn’t take this “jungle-gym” approach, moving from law and accounting to the financial industry, I obviously wouldn’t be where I am today.