What’s The Last Book You’ve Read?

What’s The Last Book You’ve Read?

Most of the books I’ve acquired over the past few years are still waiting for me to finish them. I always start out with the best intentions, though: I open a new book and eagerly finish the first few chapters as reading once again becomes my escape from reality. With each page turn, I immerse myself deeper into the plot, the characters, and the book’s message… then responsibilities creep in and the book I’ve spent all my spare time reading suddenly has to make friends with all the other books on the shelf instead of sliding down into my bag to be taken on another adventure and read throughout the day. 

Alas, reading something, even if it’s just the newspaper to keep one current is important. “What’s the last book you’ve read/book you’re currently reading/book you read for fun?” is an interview question that can and will come up eventually in job interviews. Thankfully, I can say there’s one book I finished recently (with a little help in the form of a class assignment) that 1. I could definitely talk about in an interview and 2. has lessons that could help us all as we prepare for life after grad school: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg is well-known for her current position as COO of Facebook, and her TEDWomen 2010 talk was the source of inspiration to continue the conversations about getting more women into leadership roles.

I want to highlight some key takeaways from this book, and for clarity, I have just included the quotes with the author (as not to spoil too much of the book). Sandberg does reference, if not directly quote all of the following in her book.

    1. “Your crown has been bought and paid for. Put it on your head and wear it.” – Maya Angelou

Sandberg makes a valid point about having a seat at the table. She is primarily advocating for women to close the leadership-ambition gap by taking initiative and demanding a seat at the table for meetings and other career-advancing opportunities, but this applies to grad students too. Newhouse demands a lot from us as communicators, but when we start looking for employment, continue networking and ultimately secure a great opportunity somewhere, we still have to practice advocating for ourselves and “sitting at the table” when necessary. Sometimes asking for that seat will be declined, but it doesn’t mean stop looking for ways to grow in your craft and stop asking for your seat.

     2. “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker

As Sandberg continues, she argues that success and likeability are correlated, though not always directly, and that this is applied differently to men and women. There’s also some personal anecdotes and a nod to the Howard/Heidi Harvard study too. In addition to this, Sandberg believes most women are giving up their power to leap and successfully advance in their careers. She wants women to change how we view success: it’s not a ladder, it’s a jungle gym. The same can easily be said about our success post-Newhouse. It won’t be linear, but we have more power than we realize in being able to make our career dreams a reality. In fact, most of us have attended dozens of panels, networking events and speaker presentations at Newhouse to know that the journeys and paths of alumni often do resemble a jungle gym where skills and opportunities aligned and leaps were made to keep advancing. That said, put your ladder of success down, and get ready to make some bold leaps in the next few months and years to come.

   3. “The ability to listen is as important as the ability to speak.” – Sheryl Sandberg

Fast-forwarding a few chapters, Sandberg makes a claim that I have strived to live by since leaving undergrad a few years ago: seek and speak your truth. She goes into more details about what that means, but this quote really struck me. Communication professionals spend a lot of time talking and effectively disseminating information. However, how often are we truly listening? How often are we seeking truth? As professionals, always look for those opportunities to listen with genuine interest and compassion. When it comes to seeking the truth, for many of us it will be more than feedback on a piece, a campaign, a speech or a project. Seeking truth professionally means evaluations and tough conversations to help us develop and hone techniques.

   4. “I think we [women] should reach out, because it’s perfectly clear that it’s not about biology – it’s about consciousness.” – Gloria Steinem

At this point in the book, Sandberg expands her audience to talk about men, and how men can be partners at home and in the workplace to foster environments that create, nurture and encourage women in leadership. To her point, as we go out into the world, remember that having women and men working together really makes a difference. People see things differently, and difference in perspective will always make our future work environments stronger. Although Sandberg pivots to address men, having friends/allies/partners of the opposite sex in the workplace who can advocate for you, and push you to succeed and vice versa helps break down stereotypes & stigmas and creates more opportunities for all.

   5. “Done is better than perfect.” Sheryl Sandberg

Sandberg is really addressing women and the myth of “doing it all” with this quote towards the end of the book. She wants women to stop overworking and overcompensating to meet impossible standards that are often self-imposed. We’ve all set standards for ourselves at some point that were clearly impossible and only led to more stress, sleepless nights and sickness. As we move closer to graduation and transitioning out of Newhouse, keep this in mind when people start projecting their standards and unrealistic expectations on you. This can also be helpful in your career and/or personal life to avoid unnecessarily long and stressful nights.

There’s so much more to this book than what I’ve outlined here. One criticism that I will note is some of Sandberg’s arguments may have to be deconstructed a little further to be personally applicable, but that’s completely subject to the reader. For me as an African American young woman, sometimes I had to peel back the extra layers of her arguments (seeking my truth) to make connections that resonated with me.

I would definitely recommend this book to both women and men because many of Sandberg’s points, personal anecdotes, and other stories are easily applicable and/or relatable for both.One of my biggest takeaways from the book is that I define what it means for me to have it all. Also, it’s always nice to have one or two books to talk about in an interview, or networking experience that shows what topics I’m interested in beyond my career aspirations. What books have you read recently or would recommend reading?

Mary Johnson
Mary Johnson is a second-year Public Diplomacy graduate student at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

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