I’ll admit, I’d been letting this conversation get away from me. Having eagerly read every article I could find that featured a couple of key phrases–namely, “Why women can/can’t have it all,” “lean in,” or “family balance”–I had thought I had gotten my fill. But sitting in a room of the United States Permanent Mission’s building in Geneva, this debate suddenly bubbled up to the surface–during a conversation when I had hardly expected to hear it.
By Bari Saltman
I have always been terrified of the telephone. Easily distracted and frequently awkward, I have consistently opted for alternative modes of communication – lunch dates with friends, G-chatting with my parents, texting with my grandmother (which, as you can imagine, does not always yield a timely or coherent response). When I am forced to partake in a phone conversation with a professional contact or a physically distant pal, I often find myself interrupting sentences and my attention drifting to other items on my to-do list (or, more commonly, the episode of The Newsroom that I have conveniently left open in my browser).
Yet throughout the first few weeks of my fellowship at Year Up, I logged more phone calls than I have made in the past ten years combined. As a New Sector Alliance AmeriCorps Summer Fellow serving at the national headquarters of a fast-paced, quickly-expanding non-profit, I was forced to jump in feet first—and jump out of my comfort zone. I’m spending my summer supporting the Human Resources team at Year Up, which provides urban young adults with skill development and corporate internships. Year Up is incredibly people-focused, and my work involves capacity-building projects that will enhance the non-profit’s organizational development and talent acquisition initiatives. Before I could truly make progress and create impact, however, I knew that I needed to gain a better understanding of the practices currently being implemented in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. I also had a hunch that G-chat would not serve as a legitimate form of benchmarking research.
I quickly filled my schedule with phone conversations with human resources contacts at relevant organizations, and used any free time that I had to cold call potential resources (as you can imagine, cold calling literally makes me sweat). My standard phone-induced anxiety was heightened by the fact that I didn’t feel qualified to be making these phone calls: I worried that seasoned professionals would look down on an undergraduate intern, that I wasn’t deserving of their time.
Once I leaned into the conversations and developed rapport with my contacts, however, I realized that my title at Year Up was insignificant. These individuals were willing to speak with me because I made a sincere effort to sound professional, thoughtful and relatable. In some cases, when I hung up the phone I realized that I had sparked a relationship that had the potential to continue past my service at Year Up. Though I had been speaking with strangers about unfamiliar topics through a very uncomfortable medium, I had acted as if I was confident and knowledgeable—and I came off as confident and knowledgeable.
Often, leaning in to a new experience or challenge involves not only taking a risk but also trusting that your unique assets and abilities will carry you through.
Aside from the fake-it-‘til-you-make-it lesson that is so apparent in this story, I learned throughout my research process that I did have relevant skills to bring to the table. While I had never before been directly involved in the human resources space, I was able to draw on my experiences in public speaking and counseling to effectively connect with the individuals on the other end of the phone. My finely honed Googling skills also helped me to better prepare for the conversations. Often, leaning in to a new experience or challenge involves not only taking a risk but also trusting that your unique assets and abilities will carry you through.
Above all, I have found it so incredibly important to take the time to reflect on these accomplishments, to pat myself on the back for leaning in. We too often reserve praise and encouragement for the end of a project or process, forgetting that small steps—like picking up the phone to dial a stranger—contribute to our development inside and outside of the workplace. Not only did my supervisor remark on my willingness to schedule so many conversations with so little preparation, but my blockmates have been receiving more phone calls from me than ever before. Leaning in certainly produces results in the office. Yet the practice also illuminates the strengths I possess, the skills I’ve acquired, and the areas in which there is potential for growth.
When I was 16, my friend Sofia gave me a New Yorker article on Sheryl Sandberg. This article preceded the publication of Lean In by two years, and I hadn’t yet heard Ms. Sandberg’s name. “She’s the COO of Facebook,” Sofia explained. “I know you like computers and tech-y things, so I figured you’d be interested in reading about her.”
Sofia was right. I loved the article, and one passage particularly struck me; the torn-out magazine page that contains it still sits on my desk at college, where I now study Computer Science.
From the article–
Sandberg graduated first in the economics department. At her Phi Beta Kappa induction, there were separate ceremonies for men and women. At hers, a woman gave a speech called “Feeling Like a Fraud.” During the talk, Sandberg looked around the room and saw people nodding. “I thought it was the best speech I’d ever heard,” she recalls. “I felt like that my whole life.” At every stage of her time in school, Sandberg thought, I really fooled them.
“Wow, it’s not just me,” I thought to myself. Like Ms. Sandberg, I suffered from the impostor syndrome. I was convinced that I had been “fooling everyone” throughout my academic career, that I wasn’t really as good as my accolades would suggest. I kept this passage on my desk to remind myself that this feeling of inferiority was just that– a feeling, not a reality. Ms. Sandberg’s fears were clearly misguided and I hoped mine were too.
When I started work this summer, my confidence was at an all time low. After some seriously nerve-racking interviews, I had been offered an internship at Palantir Technologies. Working at Palantir is a Computer Science student’s dream: everyone who works at Palantir is extraordinarily bright and they enthusiastically tackle some of the world’s most important data-driven problems.
Needless to say, I really didn’t want to screw up. I kept thinking, “I wonder when they’re going to realize they made a mistake by hiring me, that I am not as skilled as they think I am.” Despite how kind and welcoming my team was, this fear persisted through my first month of work. Everyone I met was brilliant and I couldn’t quash the feeling that I didn’t measure up.
One day at lunch, my insecurities finally subsided. I was sitting with some interns I didn’t know very well, and one of the girls I’d just met said, “Ugh! My Palan-fear was out of control when I got here. I’m so glad it’s eased up.” I looked at her confusedly, and asked what “Palan-fear” meant. “You know, the fear that everyone here is way smarter than you are,” she replied. I felt just like I did at 16 when I read about Sheryl Sandberg’s anxieties: “wow, it’s not just me.” Keeping that Sheryl Sandberg article on my desk was a good first step towards combatting the impostor syndrome, but it wasn’t enough. Fighting the Idonotdeserveanyofthissuccess feeling required more consistent reminders and conversations.
After lunch, I was talking to some other colleagues and told them about the term I had just learned. “This girl I met came up with the funniest expression,” I nervously offered. “Palan-fear, the worry that you’re the dumbest one in the whole company. Story of my life.” Everyone quickly started laughing. “I’m so glad someone else is worried about that,” said one. “Glad to know I’m not alone,” said another.
Next time I start to doubt myself, I will remember this moment. I will remember that sharing my insecurities with others – not fretting alone – is what helps me. I will remember how much the girl who was bold enough to talk about her “Palan-fear” in the kitchen did for me, and I will do my best to be that voice for the next girl who is sitting there quietly doubting herself.
Hannah Phillips is a rising junior at Harvard College pursuing a major in Government and a Secondary in English. This summer she is an IOP Director’s Intern for Emily’s List. Follow her on twitter @hannahphp, and check out #interncity.
“This town runs on networking”, my Government seminar teacher told me when I asked how I could make the most of my summer internship in Washington D.C. “Meet other interns.”
‘Networking’ has connotations of insincerity. When someone is described as ‘networky’, it is rarely a compliment. ‘Networkers’ are selfish, suited up, overly-ambitious young people who strike up a conversation with any influential person with whom they come into contact. Right?
Not necessarily. As I am sure you’ve been told, real networking is—and should be—relationship building. Networkers should be sincere, good conversationalists, and, most importantly, willing to help others.
As students trying to enter the professional world, we are often told to ‘network.’ Most of the time we are advised to build relationships with existing professionals, such as an internship supervisor. We’re told to do any and every task, ask them about their career, ask them about their kids. Make a memorable impact on the person who could one day get you a job.
While this is excellent advice, what is often missing from the dialogue is networking with your peers. What do we say the best thing about college is? The other students. We thrive on meeting people our age who have interesting life experiences and who are going to make a difference in the world. Similarly, the best thing about your internship can be the other interns.
Last summer I interned for a campaign. When I walked into the Elizabeth Warren for Senate headquarters, I had no idea that I would meet some of my best friends. The West Wing references, national anthem sing-alongs, and late-night discussions on Facebook Chat lasted beyond the door knocking of the summer and hugging on election night in November.
I am even currently living with a friend I met last summer, and another campaign friend crashed on our couch when he was in between Craigslist sublets. These friendships will last a long time, even till that day when we get paid to work in politics. In fact, a few months ago a co-intern texted me saying he had been offered a job on a campaign but couldn’t take it, and asked ‘who do we know who might be interested?’ Networking at its finest.
This summer, I moved to ‘Intern City.’ Yes, Washington D.C. But, more specifically, the section of the EMILY’s List office where most of the interns sit. On my first day, the interns who had been there for a few days seemed to be very close. They talked about the hashtag that they were determined to make a trend, laughed at inside jokes (something about having a mayor of Intern City) and they knew where everything was. (Apparently the other side of the office was known as the ‘suburbs.’) I felt a little intimidated. But remembering the experience from last summer, I leaned in. I asked my fellow interns to socialize outside of work. Since then, I have become a fully-fledged resident—and cabinet member—of Intern City. We’ve bonded. Our hashtag is trending (at least among the EMILY’s List Digital Team). We have regular themed lunches, and spend time together outside of work. In the future (closer than we might think) these are the people who are going to stand up in a state or federal legislature and defend women’s rights. And maybe they’ll ask me to help them.
Network with your supervisors by all means, but don’t forget to build relationships with your fellow interns. The person who will be there for you in the future professionally and personally is not someone you talked to for twenty minutes at a networking event and to whom you gave your business card or even someone who sat in the corner office during your internship who you made copies for. It will be the person who sat next to you for the whole summer who you helped. Maybe you showed them a trick on Microsoft Excel, read over their memo they had worked really hard on, or even offered personal advice about their terrible break-up over a post-work happy hour. The people you meet on your internship now will be your friends and colleges for years to come.
‘Lean in’ to your ‘intern city.’
Eight year-old Sangeeta spoke breathlessly in a quick strand of Hindi, releasing her words frantically, like air from a balloon. After every few seconds she paused, looked up at me meaningfully and then continued on – our faces only inches apart. After five minutes or so, her rambling slowed into one final discernable word, Mami, at which point she closed her eyes, and then cast her gaze upward, tracing her finger gradually above as if watching a bird fly overhead. After another slight pause she shook her head – “ne”. A single tear fell from her eye, as she turned quickly to shield her face from view. I didn’t need to speak Hindi to understand. Sangeeta’s mom had died only 20 days before.
It’s not to say that my experience working with HIV positive children hasn’t had its fair share of sadness, but Sangeeta’s heartfelt words were the first that tore at my soul like a blunt knife. Each day as I work to compose detailed case files for all of the children living at Bal Basera Child Care Home (for children infected or affected by HIV in Jodhpur, India), I find myself tearing up. With stories of child marriages, tragic accidents, fatal blood transfusions and inherent societal inequality, it is often hard to ignore the seriousness of each child’s situation. Not only are all 36 of the children living at Bal Basera HIV positive, but a sizable majority of the children have lost parents and a considerable number are orphans. Spanning 4 to 15 years of age, before their arrival at Bal Basera these children are often malnourished or plagued by other medical conditions which have caused their childhoods to be fraught with unparalleled hardship.
And yet such realities are often concealed within the foundation of the home itself, muffled by the upbeat sounds of children arguing over cricket lineups, playing card games or chasing each other from room to room. In this place, debilitating hardship is offset by a degree of fortune: the opportunity to receive proper daily nutrition morning, noon and night, the company of others in a welcoming environment, and access to necessary medical treatment such as Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART). It is rare to hear the children bring up their individual histories, for in this home the focus is on the present, not the past. Perhaps this is why Sangeeta’s story struck me with such weight.
Too often the tendency in India, and the global health field itself, is to measure success quantitatively, based upon survival. Analytically speaking, we often measure effectiveness through the number of lives saved, as opposed to the quality of lives lived (the number of children adopted, compared to the number of children who have experienced success living with their new families). And yet, over the past couple of weeks I have come to firmly believe that this quantitative measurement has little merit. There’s no doubt that every life that can be saved, should – that goes without saying – however, through this lens, quality of life takes a backseat, something that ultimately deprives those, who have been saved, of their livelihoods. Sangeeta is a life saved and a life lived, a struggling semi-orphan who has been bestowed with not only the medicine she needs to survive, but also the support she needs to grow. Regardless of her current struggles, she has remained resilient at Bal Basera, partly because of the safety nets in place to catch her when she falls – she has a home, she has a family, she has the material support she needs and a little extra loving to keep her going even on the hard days. And yet, I would hate to think where she would be without this network.
So much of my experience thus far has taught me that while my day to day tasks at work are important, perhaps the most resounding effects can be felt through my interactions with others. Preserving the safety net through promoting confidence may be the most effective mode of eradicating further illness and despair. If that means leaning in by befriending the most timid and least confident boy in the corner from a low caste, so be it – sometimes the most minute actions spark the most inspiring transformations. I sure know that I have witnessed a few.
Over the past several months I have been telling both others and myself that I would like to pursue a future in global health. While this is true to a certain extent, over the past few weeks I have learned that this does not really cover it. One can never truly enact sustainable change in the hospitals and health clinics alone. The most critical transformations result from a heavy degree of trust and cohabitation that can only occur within the realm of a home, religious organization or intimate neighborhood. To claim understanding of physical health, it is necessary to recognize the roots of the problem that occur alongside any physical ailments. Culture, emotional stability and environmental health are often omitted from the conversation and yet they are perhaps the main cause of most health concerns. In the field of medicine the human should take center stage but not without an understanding of the components by which they have been shaped. So while originally while I set my heart upon the study of global health, today I have revised that statement. Regardless of my studies or degree, first and foremost I will pursue a future in humanity. Only then, will my hopes for improved healthcare ensue.
This summer, I am working as an international relations intern at Chile’s Servicio Nacional de la Mujer (SERNAM or National Women’s Service). Chile is a beautiful country that offers beaches, volcanoes, deserts, and mountains all in one long bus ride. But what has made my stay here truly exhilarating is the chance to observe the activity of a bustling country right on the cusp of full-fledged development. I’ve been eagerly jotting down everything I notice (from actual problems like the prevalence of vagabond dogs on the streets of Santiago to minor details like how few people jay-walk here) in the hopes that if I get a chance to revisit Chile in the future, I will be able to look back and point out the differences.
The work itself also provides a look into Chile’s energy-ridden atmosphere around modernization and liberalization. My project is to review the Chilean reports to the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women from 1994 to 2012 and prepare a comparative report. Through my first two weeks (and after perhaps too many minutes of scratching my head over the meaning of SAT-level Spanish vocabulary initially), I have been able to gather that women’s rights, although clearly overshadowed by more spotlighted issues like education and constitutional reform right now, is indeed going through an exciting time as well.
In the women’s discourse in Chile, we see the classic tug-of-war between a Government cautious of change and the comparatively more radical People. Much of the winning Chilean law projects on the subject of women have been sold to legislators as protecting the institution of the family or being beneficial for children instead of as a change to the stereotypes and societal expectations as to how a woman should behave. Meanwhile, we see government services like SERNAM (backed with the power of the executive branch) responding more directly to the pressure from the people, pushing through at full speed with programs that do not require the approval of the legislature, such as career-oriented support systems and gender-related material in schools curriculum and workplace development centers.
Analyzing these patterns, watching massive (and frequent) student rallies for better education, and seeing the protest graffiti all over the city (including the historic church at which I go to mass) have certainly added up to an exciting and deeply thought-provoking study on humans, the world, and myself in general. So aside from seats I have taken at the table and the projects I have started at work, I would like to say that my true “Lean In” experience has been the passive yet focused and organized observation of all the chaos around me.
Sheryl Sandberg’s version of leaning in is quite literal; throughout the book, she urges her readers to take a seat at the table, negotiate hard, and speak up. While all these are certainly essential steps for women to take in this age, I also believe that many women forget to lean in while they are leaning in. That is to say, in the chaos of performing the actions of leaning in as Sandberg puts forward in her book, many women (and men!) forget to lean in to the world in which they live and press their ears against the wall. As a result, we soon lose sight of the bigger picture and the community-oriented mindset as we pour all our energy into overcoming battles within the self.
Leadership is indeed – and I quote our dear friend Merriam Webster here – “the office or position of a leader” or “the capacity to lead.” However, we cannot forget that the higher we are on the pyramid, the more comprehensive the view. If we want to emerge as true leaders, we should “lean in” not only in terms of speaking up at meetings; we can and should also “lean in” by taking a step back to hear, see, smell, and feel the world in which we live, so as maintain a genuine and grounded perspective on the communities we aspire to lead.
Dilia Zwart- Bosnia Initiatives for Local Development (BILD) in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina
I am working for Bosnia Initiatives for Local Development (BILD), a non-profit based in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina. BILD is, in many ways, a one-man show run by its founder, who came at the end of the Bosnian war. In the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia and in the name of a Serbian Republic in Bosnia, Bosnian Serbs ethnically cleansed Bosniaks and Croats. The war is often depicted in Western media as a muddle of ethnic and religious tensions inherent in the Balkan region. One girl I interviewed here asked if I was surprised that Bosnia is not just a photograph of war and destruction.
Even as Bosnians are moving beyond the years of war, its legacies linger. Not every building has been rebuilt, not every family has been healed by loss, many former refugees still live away perhaps visiting in the summer, and unemployment is at 40%. To establish peace and balance political and regional aspirations, the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords set up the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina as the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska (RS). Here, BILD aims to foster leadership and community among all Bosnians. Since 2008, BILD has been organizing the Tuzla Summer Institute (TSI) in the Federation to teach English and practical skills to young people in Tuzla. For the last 3 years, BILD has also organized the Doboj Summer Institute (DSI) in the RS, linking two cities that haven’t completely resolved wartime tension.
My job as an intern? Recruit applicants from top high schools and universities, interview them, process them, place each student into appropriate classes, maintain the volunteer community that embodies BILD, teach three classes. If you asked me a year ago if I would ever go to a foreign country to teach English, the immediate answer would be no. And somehow I find myself here, compelled by BILD’s respect for multiculturalism and its subtle approach to post-conflict reconciliation.
At Harvard, I am a student interested in the intersection of culture and international law, politics and religion, conflict and reconciliation. These academic interests give me a foundation for the real world, only a beginning. Here, I learn how the games of politics can affect a whole country from the top down. Just being driven by goodwill and sacrifice is not enough. Pleasing donors, prominent community leaders, and the community itself is not enough. I see how these endeavors can lead to disillusionment, embittering even the most kind-hearted and well-meaning among us.
This internship is all about personal initiative. One example of when I “leaned in” was when it came down to extracurricular program. I’d been in Tuzla for over two weeks preparing for the summer institute, and we had vaguely mentioned excursions and afternoon programs to engage students in after classes. Since I think it is important for students to participate in such a program, to practice English outside of classes and get to know each other, I decided to take charge of this project. Together with two other interns, I am planning and choreographing everything from speakers and announcements during lunch, to tennis tournaments and British high tea in the afternoon.
The nature of this internship is highly unstructured, which can be frustrating but also gives me the freedom to get things done when I see that they need organization and execution. There is no manual to tell me what needs to get done and how to do it. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to take the initiative, especially when you have a boss who is passionate but intimidating (and quite challenging to work with). Often I feel as if I cannot question or challenge how certain things are done here, while other aspects are left entirely to my own devises. I have learned a great deal about working together with difficult people, effective communication, and how to value myself even when I do not feel valued by others.
High hopes, high goals. There is no time or patience for inefficiency. Compassion is the first step, action and cooperation follow. I hope to emerge from this experience knowing that I have what it takes to take charge of my own passions, and share them with others with both empathy and determination.