My family has an endearing nickname for me around the house.
Naturally my husband coined this term, likely due to the fact that I like to advise him on most aspects of his life, solicited or not. Somehow I don’t think he intends this moniker for me as a compliment. What’s worse, my teenage son is now using it for me on a regular basis.
Apparently I come by this naturally. As the baby of the family (by many, many years), I was independent minded from the get-go. A little spoiled, too, but that’s not our topic for today. Because of the age difference between my siblings and me, I was raised essentially as an only child. Little adult–enough said.
In high school, I was the yearbook editor. I held “staff” meetings at 7:30 a.m. and took my job as editor pretty seriously in a geeky sort of way. I think it was my first real glimpse of my potential leadership skills.
More recently, my boss and I were on a conference call with my other boss when Boss #1 commented on me being so “smart and bossy” at the office. He likes to say I try to tell him what to do, which of course I do as his Work Coach. He’ll thank me someday, I promise.
It’s unfortunate that “bossy” is typically a negative, female adjective. A boy who likes to be the boss (like my youngest who is always telling everyone what to do), is simply called a leader.
Sheryl Sandberg–the COO of Facebook and outspoken voice for female empowerment–comments about this in her recent Time interview. In her new book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sandberg conveys the idea that women often fail to aim high enough, underestimate their abilities and compromise career goals for the sake of partners and children. She says that “we hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.”
It doesn’t help that women like being liked, and Little Miss Bossy Pants, well, often isn’t. This is the primary reason, Sandberg writes, women begin pulling back as they cruise through their careers. I like to say it’s all in the delivery method–bossiness and kindness don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A sense of humor tends to go a long way also.
Honestly, I’ve never really thought of myself as a “feminist” per se, though I fully embrace the idea of girl power (I suppose I didn’t necessarily connect with the bra-burning era that first gave the term “feminism” its traction). I married right out of college and put my work life into freelance mode when my children were young in order to spend maximum time with them in their early years. It’s just the path that felt right for me at the time. Only in the last year have I taken a more traditional role as a communications manager for an architecture firm–after I was clear about what I could and could not commit to at this stage of my life. I was bossy even in my interview–and they still decided to hire me anyway.
Sandberg talks about her struggle when she first started at Facebook, saying the first six months were really tough in part because she felt she had to keep the same late-night engineering hours of Mark Zuckerberg and his team. When she finally decided she would be leaving the office promptly at 5:30 p.m. in order to have dinner with her family, Sandberg realized she was the only one with a hang up about her hours. She just had to give herself permission.
My mantra was always “I can have it all–just not all at the same time,” which might not sound too feminist-y since men rarely sacrifice their careers for the sake of family. But it’s the same philosophy mentioned by Christine Lagarde, managing director and chairwoman of the International Monetary Fund, when she was asked how she managed to raise her children and have a major career. You could say this French lady has a really big job–and manages to do it with a lot of grace and respect from the international community.
I’d be willing to bet her family calls her Life Coach, too.