I’ve never liked the “lean in” movement.

And now I can say that out loud since former first lady Michelle Obama recently spoke some real truth during her promotional tour for her new book, “Becoming.”

At a recent Brooklyn appearance to promote “Becoming,” Obama talked about her marriage, motherhood, work and balancing it all. How do you achieve success without sacrificing too much?

“I tell women that whole ‘you can have it all,’ nope, not at the same time, that’s a lie,” Obama said. “It’s not always enough to lean in because that … doesn’t work.”

In a candid moment, Obama cussed. Yes, it’s impolite to use profanity, especially in public, but there are some issues that bring out the cussing spirit, as my pastor likes to joke.

Here is a woman who seems like she truly has it all, giving the rest of us mere mortals the OK to breathe a sigh of relief that some things will get dropped trying to do it all.


I intend no offense to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and the movement she sparked by her 2013 book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” Yet Sandberg put more pressure on women by making their failure to ascend to leadership a fault.

“I continue to be alarmed not just at how we as women fail to put ourselves forward, but also at how we fail to notice and correct for this gap,” Sandberg wrote.

The mission that spawned the “lean in” mantra was well intentioned. There aren’t enough women in corporate leadership roles. And it’s often not their fault.

“Throughout my life, I was told over and over about inequalities in the workplace and how hard it would be to have a career and a family,” Sandberg said.

On choosing to lean back, she reflected, “Women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce. Instead, they make a lot of small decisions along the way. … Often without even realizing it, women stop reaching for new opportunities. … By the time the baby arrives, the woman is likely to be in a drastically different place in her career than she would have been had she not leaned back.”

Sandberg added, “Only a compelling, challenging and rewarding job will begin to make that choice a fair contest.”


But what if by not leaning in – even early in your career – you’ve made a conscious decision that all the promotions and advanced pay aren’t worth what you may have to give up?

My best friend was once marveling at all that I did – writing a syndicated column, hosting my own television show and appearing regularly on public radio, as well as volunteering at my children’s school, serving as director of a financial ministry at a mega-church, going into prisons to teach inmates how to manage their money and, most important, making sure there are date nights with my husband.

“How do you do it all?” she asked.

“I don’t sleep,” I said.

Although I’ve been trying to get more rest, to get more done, I may get four or five hours of sleep a night.

But I’m crashing. I’m stressed all the time, worried that I may drop the ball on something.


Part of my drive, particularly as it relates to my career, is making sure I have financial security not just for my husband, children and me, but also for our extended family. Wealth building isn’t just about us.

However, trying to have it all has come with a price.

What Michelle Obama, with all her success, was saying is don’t be fooled by the appearance of achievement.

Even Sandberg has admitted as much.

“No matter what any of us has – and how grateful we are for what we have – no one has it all. Nor can they.”

Also keep this in mind: Your accomplishments won’t mean anything to the spouse or children who feel your career was more important than they were. And don’t wreck your health climbing up.


Obama inspired me to say, “Enough!”

You are not a failure if you don’t have it all.

Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post. Readers may contact her at:

michelle.singletary@ washpost.com

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