Leaning In, Leaning Down, Putting Yourself Out There

I loved Sheryl Sandberg's TED speech upon which a movement began. But I am sitting here reflecting upon it and how I feel about my decisions to put family first.

[callout]I wrote this post in 2014 but didn't publish it. Perhaps it is the untimely death of Sheryl Sandberg's husband that has me reflecting back upon this. Perhaps I felt it was too much about me. However, after a year of ” leaning in” and putting myself out there, the results are astounding so far.

I ended up winning the BAMMY award for best Education Talk Show Host (an award I almost pulled myself out of the running for) and since have secured a Staples sponsorship as their back to school Ambassador. I'm about to hit 100,000 followers and have keynoted six conferences during this school year. Two weeks ago, I had a webinar with more than 700 participants!

I don't say this as a brag but to say, as you read this post, you see me grappling with whether I should put myself “out there” even further. And yet, while blessed with these things, I've not compromised on my role as Mom and wife. Those who think they must sacrifice their children on the altar of their own success are sadly mistaken. I'm living proof it doesn't have to be that way.

This week of Teacher Appreciation, I hope you'll enjoy this reflection as you learn to balance the demands and appreciate your role in the world. We all struggle with times of leaning in and leaning out. – Vicki Davis in May 2015[/callout]

I'm sitting here in the lobby talking to other Westwood fans after an incredible game won by our Varsity Girls Basketball Team sending us to our third state championship game in 3 years. Two years ago, we lost and were second and last year we won. Tonight is yet to be seen.

[callout]FYI: The girls won![/callout]

Snuggled in the two beds upstairs are my daughter and one of her best friends. They are cheerleaders, and they are seniors. The girls basketball team is staying overnight. I wanted my daughter to be part of it all — not only to be here but also to be rested as she's also in the throes of some rigorous end of year coursework.

She heads to Georgia Tech in June to join her brother there and not one day goes by that I don't miss her brother. Even though sometimes he was tough, I miss buying two gallons of milk every other day, and I miss cooking five pounds of meatloaf.

I am so glad that I cut way back on speaking to enjoy his senior year. And I've done the same this year with my daughter. You see, although I did keynote a technology conference in Wyoming, I could have been at SXSW or heading to Barcelona now for a big Microsoft event. Both of them are awesome opportunities and would have been incredible to join – just amazing.

But last night I was there. I was there as we hugged each other with tears in our eyes. I was there as my precious basketball girls game up the stairs with excited looks on their faces. I got to be there. We ate a very late dinner at Carrabas, and it was almost as if each motion and movement were in slo-mo as I saw every raised glass and every laugh. I saw it all and drank it in like a drowning man breathing in air. These are those precious moments that are most rare and often most discarded.

I guess you could say I was one of those women who leaned out. As a General Manager of 13 counties of a cellular phone market, I left a great six figure job to be a stay at home Mom. Trading big bucks for a big diaper pail, I cared for two toddlers – planning lesson plans, experiences, and lots of Mommy time.

I didn't lean out, though, I leaned down. It was during those times I taught myself how to program in HTML and started my own business creating websites and fixing computers. I didn't lean out, I leaned down.

I didn't lean out; I leaned down. I leaned down to pick up my babies and to nestle my nose in their hair every morning. I leaned down to hold them when they had booboo's and to pat their little fannies as they cried in the night with a tummy ache. I leaned down, and I don't regret it for one moment.

I don't regret missing those things I could have done last year as my son played in football games. I did miss his senior night that almost killed me– but overall I was there for just about everything. Scaling back on speaking was a good decision for me and my family.

And I'm glad to be right here in this lobby laughing with friends, hugging the students I love and drinking some coffee that is surprisingly good. I'm glad to go back to the room in a minute with two snoozing teenagers who will be snoozing in their dorm rooms next year instead of anywhere near me. In short, I'm glad I leaned down.

It could have gone another way. I was in a GTE Program called the Marketing Management Development Program – it was an awesome opportunity for training and learning. I was voted “most likely to become president of the company.” They moved us every 6 months. I left the program early to take an incredible job for an amazing boss that everyone wanted to work for. Then, I got promoted several times and it was very exciting. After not getting a promotion for something I was best qualified for, I left that company for a big promotion into the “field” and took a cell phone market from less than 100 phones a month to more than 650 within 3 months. It was a great job and I loved it.

But when I started to have children, everything changed for me, and I'm glad it did. While I love working and managing and doing all those sorts of things – and I enjoyed having the money — I saw that my life is for more than that. I saw people that needed me. I saw some things that only I could do.

Ultimately, my love for my children led me to teach – they needed me at their school and I was going to be there. But somehow, in leaning down I found my true love. Really, I have more than 500 children now – close to 1000 after the 13 years I finish up this spring.

My love is kids. My own first and then any other child who gets within 10 feet.

If I see a toddler, I'm going to lean down and get on the floor or pull out my iPad and teach them something cool. If it is a middle schooler, we'll probably ending up talking about something middle school-ish (probably gross b/c that is what they do). If it is a high schooler, we'll talk about their uncertain future as they explore their dreams.

But as we do all of these, these are moments that I stole from a future that could have been filled with other things. It could have been filled with more “me”, I guess. It could have been much different, and I guess I could have been one of those lean in women who never left the table and stayed in the throes of business.

But the thing I've discovered about myself is that I do not define success by how much money is in the bank. (Sometimes I sure wish I did! ;-) But, for me, it is how many lives I can change and help be better. Changed lives– especially those of my children– is the currency of success.

Sometimes I've leaned in. Other times I've leaned down. I'm thankful for both.

If I can write something that helps you be a better teacher – or if I can write something that helps someone be a better parent. Or if I can be there to capture a moment or share a moment with my kids. Those are moments that will play upon my still, cold face when I am laid to rest that you cannot take away from me. They say you can't take “it” with you but it is the money, cars, etc. and trappings – no, those things you can't take it with you. But honestly, I care more about who I leave behind and the impressions in their mind.

My children might not be able to say I was CEO or head of this or that, but they can say something important — Mom was there.

I wasn't there all the time because I do travel and speak some, but they can say I was there when it counted.

I was there to wipe their tears, change their diapers, check their homework and cook them dinner. I was there to hear them cry when they had a teenage tragedy and to wash the stinkiest football jersey east of the Mississippi.

Maybe I gave a lot up by not leaning in but I don't feel guilty about it one bit. And maybe that is the problem. I'd rather invest in my children than in myself.


But then there comes a time to lean in when the kids are gone or growing up. While I still have one who will be at home, there are “things I've gotta do.” I realized that I was learning out when I had a friend who wanted me to submit for the i3talks at the BAMMY awards this year.

You see, early on, I let myself be nominated for a few awards – I'd go through the interview, etc. and then it wouldn't happen even though those selected, I didn't think, were as qualified – they were more “certified.”

So, I said no more. Just work hard on sharing and doing for others and let other people go for stuff like that. Oddly, there were once or twice when I asked my readers to vote for me for the Edublogs and I'd get a firestorm of criticism – usually from men – although my male counterparts who asked for votes wouldn't get the same criticism. So I stopped letting people know I was nominated there too. Just focus on the main thing.

Then the BAMMYS – I was asked to come join them and present some things. Even nominated. I most assuredly leaned out — “awards aren't for me – I'd just rather stay here and do a great job and help people.” I never told anyone at my school or even tried to go. I just want to help people.

But here's the thing and I'm talking to you teachers — you've got stories to tell and listening to Sheryl's speech and reading books like Compelling People, I've realized that there is a difference between taking care of your kids and choosing to not take care of yourself and career.

I may have chosen to be a stay at home Mom, and I may have chosen to be a teacher and not to go full time on the speakers circuit. I've chosen those things. But who says I should choose to sit quietly at home and not put myself out there?

The other day I was talking to my husband and youngest son about the fiction book I'm writing. They love the story but I've got a whole huge struggle with putting myself out there on a fiction book – all the self doubts come in. So, my youngest son said,

“Mom, its a great story and you need to tell it.”

I said, “Yeah, I guess the worst thing I could do is fail.”

Without a split second he says, “No, Mom, the worst thing you can do is quit writing the story.”

As Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day says, the most expensive land in the world is the graveyard. The graveyard is where all of the hopes and dreams are buried. Also buried are the books that were never written and businesses that were never started and risks that were never taken. I will not bury my best with me.

Well, not only am I going to lean in, I'm going to contribute and be part of things and put myself out there. It is time.

So what if it is more the norm in our society for women to sit back – there's a reason that 90% of the speakers at our edtech conferences are men. Don't fault them if they apply and put themselves out there to present and we don't. It isn't that the men don't deserve it (God forbid the day we're hired based on our gender) but 80% of teachers are women and we should have a better representation than we have right now in the speaker's circuit. We've got to wise up and grow up to the world we've made and question its merit. We've got to be willing to lead with our own lives and actions.

There's just a big difference, again, between choosing to take care of your children and choosing to not take care of yourself and your own career. Taking care of them does not mean neglecting your own hopes and dreams all the time. Both parents end up sacrificing because that is what parents do. If you're looking for sacrifice free parenting, don't have a child. It doesn't exist.

Taking care of them does not mean neglecting your own hopes and dreams all the time. Both parents end up sacrificing because that is what parents do. If you're looking for sacrifice free parenting, don't have a child. It doesn't exist.

I think I'm just questioning my own route I've taken over the past few years to quietly let awards and nominations and the like pass me by just so I wouldn't be criticized. So, here's for the lean in.

I'm heading to the BAMMY Awards.

[callout]As I said in the early part of this piece, this was written in late winter 2014 — a little over a year ago. So many incredible things have happened. But I am so glad for the choices I made to focus on my family and choose them, while still choosing to do what I can in my career. I've blogged at 5 am before the kids got up for almost 10 years now.

I never have been able to do everything, but refusing to sacrifice my children on the altar of my own career has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. And now, after two have gone to college and with one still left in middle school, I'm also experiencing awesome things as I lean in even more.

There are times and seasons of life – learn to enjoy each one. I'm glad I was a stay at home Mom. I'm glad I've lived life with no regrets. And I shall not live with the regret that during this time now that I didn't lean in more. [/callout]

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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