Lean In by Going Within

As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg continues to inspire spirited debate in the media over her book Lean In, which she describes as a “sort of feminist manifesto,” I can’t help but think of an early feminist meeting I attended in the 70s at Illinois State University. Young women were speaking about equality in the workplace, and suddenly the room grew quiet as a mother holding her baby in her arms stood up and said, “I don’t understand why we are wanting to succeed in a man’s world. Isn’t the point that we want to change that world to become something better?”

According to Sandberg, women can’t change the world until they are equally represented in places of power. She says it this way: “Today in the United States and the developed world, women are better off than ever before. But the blunt truth is that men still run the world. While women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, we have ceased making real progress at the top of any industry. . . . This means that when it comes to making the decisions that most affect our world, our voices are not heard equally.”

It’s Sandberg’s concept of why this is happening that forms the crux of the book and makes it so controversial.

“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,” she writes, and the result is that “men still run the world.”

She places the responsibility on women themselves. She cites one problem in particular: the invisible barrier in women’s minds.

“Compared to our male colleagues, fewer of us aspire to senior positions,” she writes. “My argument is that getting rid of these internal barriers is critical to gaining power. We can dismantle the hurdles in ourselves today. We can start this very moment.”

In many ways, I agree with Sandberg. I have lived my entire life based on the premise that empowerment comes from within. Like thousands of women in this country, every day when I sit down to meditate, I’m doing just what Sandberg is asking us to do—removing the interior barriers of fear, lack of self-confidence, and low expectations that keep women from succeeding in the workplace. As a result, I’ve witnessed a huge transformation (to quote Sandberg, who likes the word “huge”) in myself as well as in the lives of my friends who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique.

I think the main thing I notice in women who meditate is their sense of being comfortable with themselves—their ability to stop measuring themselves by outer means, such as their appearance, size of paycheck or approval from others. Studies have shown TM practice develops a more strongly defined self-concept, with meditators reporting that they perceive their “actual self” as significantly closer to their “ideal self.” 

After all, when you experience yourself as an ocean of unbounded happiness, power and bliss—your true Self with a capital “S”—that empowerment spontaneously carries over into your workday and your family life.

Not to mention the deep rest that helps relieve anxiety, depression and improves brain functioning—all measurable results of TM practice according to research studies.

That said, am I ever going to become a board-room executive or the CEO of a major corporation? No. I’m not putting up an invisible barrier here—these jobs simply don’t suit my talents or my ambitions. (My ambitions run more along the lines of holing up in a beach house and writing the great American novel.)

Yet I feel that each time I meditate, I am making the world a better place, by dissolving stress, by empowering myself to become more successful, and most importantly, by enlivening the deepest part of myself so that I can bring my best Self to my work and my family. And when more women experience this kind of real and authentic empowerment, there’s no telling how much we can change the workplace, and the world, for the better.

About the Author

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

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