Lean In: How to Survive the Career Jungle Gym

Don’t wait for power to be offered. Like that tiara, it might never materialize. And, anyway, who wears a tiara on a jungle gym?

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It all began with her 2010 TED Talk that has had over six million views (and counting) where she advocated for women to take charge of their careers by ‘sitting at the table’ and take risks to have it all (I know that this ‘having it all’ point is highly debatable, but shall we leave this for another blog post shall we?). Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In that resulted from that talk, tries to erase the negative effects of Disneyfication by calling on women to heal themselves of the tiara syndrome. Those of us who grew up in the 1990s watching the Disney princesses seem to have carried the notion that when the time is right, your fairy godmother or Prince Charming will always save the day into adulthood and even our professional lives.

In a perfect meritocracy, women expect that as long they work hard and play by all the rules, they will be rewarded. Truth be told, careers today are simply jungle gyms. They are neither linear nor have safety nets. Women have to position themselves in places where they will able to participate in negotiating and decision making. The affirmative action card has been played for far too long and women need to claim their rightful place in the C-suite by earning it.

Sheryl calls on women to be able to take stretch assignments that will differentiate from the rest of the pack and diversify their expertise. However, women are not likely to do the extra work because they feel that they may not rise to the occasion. The imposter syndrome makes a woman feels fraudulent even though she is very capable and qualified to perform tasks at hand. This form of self-doubt coupled with gender stereotypes has paralysed women into staying within their comfort zone, not exploring what they have to offer themselves and the rest of humanity. This can only be remedied by taking risks. Calculated risks. Women should set their bars high and strategically manoeuvre the career jungle gym with the right people to helping them along the way.

Numerous blog posts and books have preached the importance of mentorship, sponsorship and coaching in career development. The author expresses her disappointment about a time when she attended a talk where the male attendees asked her intelligent questions about the topic of discussion and her own career while one of the ladies asked how she could get a mentor. To ease the pressure from prospective mentors and protégés, we need to change our advice from “Get a mentor and you will excel” to “Excel and you will get a mentor”. The mentee can capture the mentor’s attention or imagination by ensuring that their encounter is tailored to meet both their needs. The mentee should be specific in the kind of assistance that he or she requires without inconveniencing the mentor.

Sheryl advocates for building “natural” relationships with people that you admire or remind you of your younger self. However, mentoring becomes complicated when a mentor is a man and the protégé, a woman. She cites how she handled a personal incident and how other male executives have tried to mentor (younger) female employees without raising eyebrows. Reader beware, mentors are not your therapists. Very few executives with their high-strung careers have the time to hold your hand as you go through your emotionally charged career. Seek their input on well-thought out specific problems and not your personal dramas.

Part of sitting at the table involves mastering the art of negotiation. Sandberg says that when negotiating for that promotion or salary raise or the opportunity of a lifetime, women need to “think personally, act communally.” Most of the time , women tend to think about the common good at the expense of their own desires and thus end up being unhappy. Sure, it is good to put in the extra hours in order to meet a particular target but one should not put their advanced degree on hold just because they are “indispensable”. In these harsh economic times, even the very best are shown the door by employers whom they thought they had hired them for life. Know when to take one for the team and when to be selfish.

Lean in offers advice on how to make your significant other a real partner in a bid to juggle private and public roles. Sheryl also shares about her work dynamics with Mark Zuckerberg and her experience working for the greatest organisations in the world.

This is not one of your typical self-help books that offer a step by step guide on how to deal with problem XYZ. Sheryl has reinforced all her ideas and experiences with research and statistics that bring out her core message of women being more proactive in the proactive in their life choices. For instance, the Heidi/Howard case study blatantly demonstrated how as human being we correlate gender stereotypes, success and likeability. She links the research findings to when she had her first performance review with Mark, who in turn advised her ‘’If you please everyone, then you are not making enough progress’’.

Lean in make the reader reflects on how the various statistics presented in the book skew in their own context. This business book is not just for the professed feminists who want to achieve world domination (in their particular fields) but also for the men who want to empower the important women in their lives.

Available in Kenya:

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead: Text Book Centre¦ Bookstop

Lean In for Graduates (Expanded Version): Text Book Centre

Photo credit: Goodreads.

21 things you can do in a Nairobi traffic jam.

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It’s no secret that Nairobi traffic jams are worsening and everybody has their reasons… Some say that the growing middle class with a higher disposable income  are keen on flaunting their stuff with their imported Japanese cars.  I mean its quite obvious that the car or matatu in front of you is 90% of the time likely to be a Toyota  but lets not  go there for now. Others blame (insert name of elected representative or Serikali in general) for misappropriating funds  meant for improving  road infrastructure  and those  who decide  to say not so pleasant things about their  fellow road users.

From my own experience, there  have been  times when I have been stuck in a less than 50m stretch for three hours wondering what happened to all sanity.  At such times, I wished I was Inspector Gadget, so that I could fold up my car and just  walk to my  destination or even transform it to a chopper.

In a 2011 study, IBM Institute for Business Value calculated the commuter pain index which ranked Nairobi 4th out of 20 cities worldwide. See the study here. 42% of the  respondents  agreed that their  stress levels had increased due to traffic congestion and its related woes, since 91% of all the respondents  lost an average of 1.3 hours.

IBM CPI

In light of this study, I thought of various ways that you and I could make use of the fringe hours and  hopefully reduce road rage:

  1. Ask the driver to loan you his newspaper so that you can catch up with the news at no extra cost.
  2. Sleep: This has can be done especially when you live on the outskirts of Nairobi (Rongai, Athi River, Kitengela) since some of them have curtains anyway but word of caution, ensure that don’t pass your stage or that you are not pick-pocketed,
  3. Go to that happy place that is devoid of all impatience and frustrating thoughts. You could actually come up with the next big idea!
  4. Plan your day and other things. Though we love the  good ol’ pen and paper  but mental notes or your smart phone  might do as well.
  5. Courtesy of the free WiFi in the matatu, update your Facebook status or gram or Snapchat or blog or tweet. Word of caution: beware which street you are on before you flash your smart phone.
  6. Catch up on all the articles that you have clipped to Evernote  or  bookmarked on your designated blog reader.
  7. Read that book or magazine that you have been carrying around for the last couple of weeks but have never gotten round to.
  8. If you are bright enough(and brave enough), you could have your breakfast especially if you own a thermo-mug.
  9. For the last-minute crammers, this would be a wonderful opportunity to go through those notes or even catch up on your homework.
  10. Chat up a stranger on the state of the economy, the matatu industry, the weather e.t.c. e.t.c. If you are lucky enough you might discover that he or she is the neighbour that you have never met.
  11. Chat up the conductor a.k.a makanga a.k.a concodi on how day in his life is like.
  12. If you are alone  you can have  your 60 seconds of fame and belt out  your favourite tunes orif you have company, then have your own version of carpool karaoke.
  13. Well, there’s always your indispensable earphones that are permanently attached to your smart device or listen to the car music player. Listen to that podcast or audiobook that you have been putting off.
  14. Listen to the local stations (By the way, does the Kenyan matatu industry have an MoU with Classic 105?)
  15. Call that person that you have been intending to talk for a long while. For pre-paid customers, don’t worry about running out of airtime, because you”ll find someone selling Bamba 50.
  16. Support the local economy. Buy some of the wares from our ever-entrepreneurial hawkers from newspapers to wall charts to scarves to vuvuzelas to peanuts to mobile chargers. You name it, they’ve got it.
  17. Get out of your vehicle, stretch and talk to other motorists
  18. Fiddle with the fancy gadgets in your car and discover how to actually use your GPS system.
  19. Clean out your compartments. I am sure that there are so many receipts, leaflets, flyers, broken CDs that you really don’t need.
  20. Go to your nearest coffee house, grab a cuppa  and wait for the traffic to subside.
  21. This would be the opportune time to pull out your sandals or ngomas and walk to your destination.

Any more ideas? Please  share them in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

New York Times “By the Book” Tag : Insights on My Reading Habits

Yesterday,  I enjoyed watching  Max of Well Done Books  do the New York Times  “By the Book ” tag  and I was dying stationery envy when  he flashed his beautiful  journal. The  tag was originally created by Danish Booktuber Marie Berg  based on By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review.  

You can watch Max’s  video here and Marie’s here.

But without much further ado,  here are my thoughts :

NYT Tag Collage

What book is on your night stand now?

The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley and The State of Africa by Martin Meredith. More on these in upcoming posts.

What was the last truly great book that you read?

I was  drawn to The Invention of Wings  By Sue Monk Kidd   because I  caught  The Secret of  Lives of Bees midway on TV some time in 2015.   Part historical fiction,  part biography showed the  relationship between  Handful, a Coloured slave  to  Sarah  Grimke  who was owner but  later became an abolitionist.  The book is well-researched and eye-opening.

So Long a  Letter by  Mariama Ba  proves that  dynamite comes in small packages. I  did  a full review here. But I have  to say  I was underlining every other line  because of the numerous lines that  were packed with punch.  I loved this missive between best friends and I ended up wishing that someone also write me one.

If you could meet any writer – dead or alive – who would it be? And what would you want to know?

Ruta Sepetys.  I am a History junkie  because I  believe that History is cyclical so its  better to get to learn them. I also resonated with Ruta Sepetys’ motivation for writing for Salt to the Sea.  (See my review here).  She says that one of the ways that we can  honour  the victims of the atrocities  is  by  sharing their  stories.I watched her in a couple of  videos and she seems to be a down to earth person that I could  hang out with. I would love to hear about her  travels  and her career .

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

I recently  unhauled  some books so at the moment, there’s no “weird” book. But I  have to admit  that I had Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Rodrick Rules and Cabin Fever .The author made stickmen look pretty good and it was pretty funny. I guess I am a  kid at  heart.  Plus,I got them for KES 100  (less £1)  each at  my local Inama Bookshops. Though, I am open to  reading  books outside my comfort zone, so please leave some recommendations below…

How do you organize your personal library?

I have divided my shelves between non-fiction and fiction. Due to limited space, I have put my  read books at the back and the TBR ones at the forefront.  I have put  series together e.g. Dear America and Christy Miller

What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read?

Ahem! Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. I  have never picked up any of  their  works. Well I have  Hardy’s  Mayor of Casterbridge and  Tess of the D’Urbervilles  on my shelf and every time I have picked them up,  I was restless and perhaps I was not  ready for them. But I really  enjoyed  Far from the Madding Crowd  movie  and I have heard so many good things about Hardy so I am determined to get  through my  first Hardy  over the next six months.

I am also embarrassed that I have not read a lot of Kenyan literature  written  by Kenyans. I have  Dust on my shelf for a few years (*cringe*)  and hope that I will get to it soon enough. This was also the  motivation behind my #2016KEBookworm reading challenge

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel you were supposed to like but didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

Rising Strong by Brene Brown and Yes, Please by Amy Poehler.  I think that I  heard about these books  from every single  corner of the  internet so that by the  time I finally  got to read  them, I felt that they were lacklustre and that  I was not  learning  anything  new.   In the case of Rising Strong, I would like to read her earlier books, Gifts of Imperfection or Daring Greatly.  As for  books written by  comedians, next time I will go for audiobooks read by the actual  author  for that extra time

What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?

Coming of age, self-discovery, the-struggle-is-real with witty dialogue kinda stories and  a bit of  romance never  hurt anyone.

I stay  clear of stories with a  strong language  because I believe that  you can be authentic without having to cuss everybody out.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?  

Les Misérables.  This should not be a shocker.. I have  written about this  book in a previous post and mentioned it severally here. In short, its talks about class struggle, the law and redemption.

What do you plan to read next?

Between Shades of Grey, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and maybe Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.  This is all part of my conquering my  plan to read  books that I have on my shelves.

I would like to tag: Nnenna of Star Crossed Smile, Fifi at A Kenyan Bibliophile, Faroukh of  The Guy with the Book and  Diana from Voices in  My Head.

You might also enjoy Marie Berg’s video on Nordic Literature

 Note: All book pictures were from Goodreads and  edited in Pic Monkey. This post does not contain affiliate links.