Lean In Or Lie Down

When it’s time to take a step back

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

When it’s time to take a step back

My Reading Room

The philosophy of “leaning in” has struck a chord with millions of women, but how hard should you push yourself before you lean back and lie down? 

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg advocated for women to push themselves and seize opportunities rather than passively accepting whatever comes their way. The message made a huge impact, and the phrase “lean in” has become a rallying cry for women around the world to take charge of their lives.

Law professor Rosa Brooks embraced the “lean in” ethos, pushing herself to the limit in both her career and at home. And, as she related in an essay for The Washington Post, it worked: “Just as [Sheryl] promised, the rewards of leaning in quickly became evident… Soon, the rewards of leaning in doubled. Then they quadrupled.” But eventually, Rosa had a rude awakening: “I was miserable. I never saw my friends, because I was too busy building my network. I was too tired to do any creative, outside-the-box thinking. I was boxed in.”

Stretched too thin While the struggle for gender equality has led to positive changes in women’s social status, women are often still expected to take on the second job of running the household. Even if you’re still single, you might still feel pulled in different directions. Maybe you want to focus on volunteering, or just spend more time with your family – that might mean you won’t be able to give your job your undivided attention, and may feel guilty for every minute you spend not replying to emails or networking.

But stretching yourself too thin is a recipe for burnout. Rosa notes that, “When a workplace is full of employees who always lean in and never lean back, it’s full of employees who are exhausted, brittle and incapable of showing much creativity or making good decisions.”

This isn’t to say we should stop leaning in. Rather, to truly excel in life, you may have to occasionally “lean out”.

Tender loving (self-)care

If you’re constantly feeling overwhelmed and stressed, it’s time to take a step back to evaluate your current state of happiness and make room for some self-care. Beata Justkowiak, psychologist and life coach at Energising Goals, advises her clients to ask themselves “What is important to me?” and then have the courage to “build [their] life around [their] answer – even if it means taking a major break from work.” She admits that she herself had to learn how to slow down every once in a while, and encourages her clients to do the same by taking short breaks, asking for help and prioritising.

Despite the pressure that some women may feel to step up and take charge of their careers, it’s important not to “take into account anybody else’s answer, or what your answer ‘should’ be, or what others will think of your answer,” says Beata.


As important and fulfilling as it is to go for the gold in all areas of your life for long- term success, “give yourself time to rest and reflect, recharge and recentre your energy” says Beata. And don’t forget to treat yo’ self every once in a while. 

My Reading Room

“I don’t want to lean in, I want to lie down.”Comedian Ali Wong. This was famously said during her Netflix special Baby Cobra.

Images 123RF.com Instagram Account @aliwong Text Claire Soong.