Taking Time to Lean Back

Andrew Shatté, Ph.D. is the chief science officer at meQuilibrium — a Boston-based Chrysalis portfolio company that offers an online, stress management tool.  Dr. Shatté has been researching resilience and stress for over two decades and has developed effective programs for children, college students, and corporations. In the article below he discusses whether it is healthy to continue to lean in or hit reset on our priorities and lean back.

Taking Time to Lean Back

By Andrew J. Shatté, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer, meQuilibrium

Printed in The Huffington Post, Less Stress, More Living section

Lean In, the latest book from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, is racing up the charts and has lit up the blogosphere. Her premise is simple and stark — for 30 years now, 50 percent of our college graduates have been women, and yet they are dramatically underrepresented in senior management positions. (In fact, women fill only 14 percent of the Fortune 500′s executive-level jobs.) To remedy this, Sandberg goads women to “lean in” at the workplace, to give up on having it all (work and home), become more involved and assertive and, in short, to become more like men.

Or at least that’s the interpretation that many pundits and critics have taken away from Lean In (here’s where I admit that I haven’t read Sandberg’s book). Whether that’s her case or not, it’s ill-advised. Because as Arianna Huffington points out (in the Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2013), the traditional (male) model of career success is failing. In fact, it’s killing us.

We are stressed in epidemic proportions. One in 4 of us is highly or severely stressed. More than half of us acknowledge that we’re so stressed it’s making us sick. And every day, 1 million Americans are absent from work because of stress. Rather than “leaning in,” we should be exhorting our women and our men, as Arianna does, to take the time to lean back. The problem is, 4 million years of evolution is working against us.

Several years ago I met with a salesperson in my company who was underperforming. In a pool of tears she told me of the pressure she felt to make money — not to keep a roof over her kids’ heads or food on their table, but to keep up with the Joneses. Her next-door neighbors just got new living room furniture and now she had to. The people two doors down got a new car and now she and her husband must, too. She didn’t want to be on the treadmill, but every fiber in her body kept her on it. That’s when I realized this drive for material possessions and status was hardwired.

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