When Is It Time to Lean Out?

Magnolia Ripkin
Written by Magnolia Ripkin

There is a lot of chatter around the idea that women are supposed to “Lean In.” The book that coined the phrase is everywhere. So, being a “with it” kind of chick, I started to read the book.

I am in that demographic of women who have spent plenty of time in boardrooms and high level negotiations. I have been around a whole lot of men in suits. Not hot men in suits like Mad Men, more like Chris Farley as the motivational speaker. I know more than I care to about women playing in the corporate sand box for the long haul.

I scoured the early chapters of “the book” looking for that magic gem of advice that would make me more effective, more motivated, or help me actually remember to pick up the dry cleaning. Maybe I could find some way of “leaning in” even harder than I have over the years when I did a master’s degree at night, had babies, divorced, moved across the country, all the while following the brass ring of the mega-career.

Many women passed through my work life during those years. Promising young ones, experienced older gals who fought the great pant suit wars of 1974, and some zombies. All of them battled with the same things:

How do I make this unicorn called “work life balance” work?

What am I going to do with the corner office if I ever get it? Statistically it is a hard go, but you keep on truckin’ tiger.

What decisions will lead me to fulfillment of heart and soul? (If you figure that one out, let the rest of us know.)

Now that I am staring down the barrel of the final sprint to the finish line of my working years, I am thinking more about leaning out.

It has been a hard slog, truly. I am now on the cusp of being matronly, and although I can’t go a seventh week without a root touch up, I can tell you I know plenty of stuff. The experience I bring to my career is mind boggling, but I find it increasingly boring to implement all of my genius every day. On top of that, even we fabulously-groomed middle aged women are becoming invisible in today’s society. Sometimes the struggle doesn’t seem worth it.

Leaning out starts to look better and better, almost, you know, like fun. Hobbies and dirty novels become more appealing. Drinking wine at lunch with your best friends was the domain of the wealthy stay at home Moms when I was younger. I want a few 3 o’clock hangovers before I have to fish my teeth out of a glass in the mornings.

Leaning out doesn’t have to be purely recreational when you think about it. It could be doing something more fulfilling or meaningful to somebody. Saving orphaned baby whales may cause the raising of a perfectly coiffed eyebrow in the boardroom, but is actually kind of neat if that is your gig.

Working late and putting in extra hours on the weekend is unnecessary these days. I’ve become a well-oiled machine, armed with the big mental book of “know it all,” I’ve earned my dollars and now want a little personal time to enjoy spending them. Limiting the overtime is one way to cope, but what if we all leaned out even further? What if we all could?

Financial constraints aside, what if a bunch of us hopped off the treadmill of ambition and said “never mind this crap” and left the building? What if we took our collective wisdom and left the whole schmear to the younger worker bees? Talk about a Fiscal Cliff. It would go down in history as the Great Estrogen Depression.

Leaning out seems like the more attractive option compared to jamming myself into a power suit every Monday morning. I sometimes consider buying a mid-life crisis car, maybe a little convertible. But then, maybe not… you know.. hair.

But perhaps what I will do is put off the three martini lunches for a little while longer.

Maybe I will don a crisp suit and unleash my full octane flying monkeys on some folks.

Maybe I will lean in so hard that the corner office will never be the same. And then, when I finally swirl on my fabulous heel and call it a day, I will lean way out and write a book.

(This post originally ran in the Huffington Post.)

About the author

Magnolia Ripkin

Magnolia Ripkin

Our Editor-in-Chief Magnolia Ripkin is sort of like your mouthy Aunt who drinks too much and tells you how to run your life, except funny… well mostly funny… like a cold glass of water in the face. She writes a flagrantly offensive blog at Magnolia Ripkin Advice Blog answering pressing questions about business, personal development, parenting, heck even the bedroom isn’t safe.
She is the Editor in Chief at BluntMoms. Other places to find her: Huffington Post, The Mighty and Modern Loss. You can also check her out in two amazing compendiums of bloggers who are published in “I Just Want To Be Alone.” And most recently, Martinis and Motherhood, Tales of Wonder, Woe and WTF

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4 Comments

  • Love! I am so there with you and that actually explains my writing, volunteer and dance teacher gigs. They are about doing what matters to me. That being said, I did like Sheryl’s book and have an image of me reading it while in pole-sit at the dance studio. It is for sure about balance and finding it. I just needed encouragement to strive a bit more in the work place. I found a lot of the narrative spoke to letting your partner parent too and I’m a single parent. Accordingly, my cats are on notice to do bedtime reading so I can steam clean my Wonder Woman cape 😉
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  • Thanks for this smart and honest take on the “lean in” movement. There has been something slightly off about it from the get-go for me, and this has helped to solidify it in my mind. Basically, it seems like the “lean-in” goal is for the betterment of corporate women as a whole, while kind of disregarding women as individuals. It’s great (and even important, sure) to do when and if you want to do it, but what about when you don’t? It’s great to hear from someone who is a great example of priorotizing career, of gladly leaning in, but who says it’s maybe okay to lean out sometimes, if that’s your jam.

    Good luck with your eventual grand exit!

    • Thanks for your kind and insightful comment. I like the idea of choices for women, we can lean in, lean out, lean over, fall over, whatever and we still get stuff done don’t we?

      Cheers and thanks for reading!

  • It never ceases to amaze me how many more decisions women have to make than men with regard to…..everything. And still, as you say, we get stuff done! I’ll be at your book signing! 🙂