Before people start getting annoyed with my "Thank You Lean In" posts, I thought of writing WHY I WILL ALWAYS BE THANKFUL TO Sheryl Sandberg and Lean IN !! This is also for people who have known me as a kid and are still confused "WHAT CHANGED THIS GIRL? "... Here is the story...
Innocent , sweet, shy , quiet, weak, slow, immature, kiddish, too nice, dumb, fearful, full of low self confidence, introvert - This has been my definition always, This is what people knew about me.
I still remember class 11th ( high school ) when my very short 16 year old life took a dramatic turn. My then best of friends started avoiding me. I suddenly became the most embarrassing friend to hang out with. And unfortunately I had no idea why this was happening. I initially started asking my friends and I got answers like -- “ You laugh too much “, “You don’t know how to talk to guys”, “You should work on yourself and grow up a little” . The answers were not clear but one thing was sure that something was wrong with me ( I thought then ). This bugged me so much that eventually I started hating myself for who I am. By the end of school , I was so afraid of hearing these comments that I decided that I will never talk to new people and will stay in my shell all my life (worst decision). Even after graduating from high school I kept asking myself again and again and again -- What wrong did I do? Why didn’t my friends like me?
Finally , I have found the answers. During school, I did not follow the unspoken rules that a 16 year old girl is expected to follow. I was not the kind of girl , a guy would ask out for a date. I used to laugh a lot ( I still do ), which is something guys don’t like in girls -- an unspoken stereotype. I never cared about how I looked, I did not know anything about dresses and hairstyles. I did not like shopping ( I still don’t) .I was good in studies , a sincere student and very talented but that obviously didn’t count. Consider it God’s curse or blessing, HE did not give me the senses to hear those unspoken messages and stereotypes( which my friends definitely followed ).
As I entered college, those unspoken messages became louder. I came to know that being good in maths and computer science or being able to create mobile applications didn’t matter for girls. The things that mattered was --Number of boyfriends, your dresses, nails, hair, time you spend on makeup and plans with your future prince charming. I was shocked when I was told that I will have to eventually sacrifice my ambitions and career after getting married and having kids. I knew this was wrong and unacceptable but neither did I believe in my opinions nor I had the courage to speak them aloud.
When I read Lean In, the fact that Facebook’s COO and I share the same opinions gave me the courage to talk about these stereotypes amongst my friends. It took me 6 months to complete Lean IN. It took me 2 more months to gather the courage to write my vague thoughts to leanin.org . I was on the top of the world when I received a reply from the organisation. I did not expect someone to actually go through my note. Nola Barackman was the first person outside my confined group of people with whom I communicated with over e-mail. She has made e-mailing a part of my comfort zone now. Her words had the magic to encourage this shy, innocent, weak and slow girl to start a circle with her then new friends. She introduced me to Alexandra Catherine Swanepoel , who was the first person I met over Skype. I was so nervous before the Skype call. I started jumping for opportunities , I never thought I could do. I used to observe my group of friends and plan my lean in circle activities accordingly. I remember jumping with joy when my circle’s pic was shown in the lean in campus kick off watch party. On 24th December 2014, lean in team gave me a surprise by posting my picture on their page as “The inspiration of the week”. I couldn’t believe it was written for me. Being an “inspiration” was so unsettling. Because of that picture , I met Bruna Curcio -- the first person I met in person .. haha
This was huge for someone who had once decided to never talk to new people ever.I stepped out of my comfort zone every single day. Not only public speaking, but speaking with people in general, exploring new things in programming, talking to new people without the fear of being judged, playing sport, raising my hand in class even when I didn’t know the answer, taking part in activities -- you name something new and I will do it.
A few weeks ago, I attended ABIdotDelhi conference -- a gathering of Women technologists in New Delhi. I raised my hand and spoke about lean in as soon as I got the chance ( I do that everywhere I go now ). By the end of the conference, I had spoken to 12 senior women technologists. All of them recognised me as the “ the enthusiastic and confident girl who spoke about Lean In “.
Sheryl Sandberg changed the way I perceived myself. From an innocent, sweet girl to a strong, confident and inspiring leader. She changed the qualities I was so-called “born” with. My school teachers, parents and friends could have never imagined this. Even I never knew I had so much potential. I am not sure what the future holds for me and how far I will go but one thing is for sure -- NOTHING CAN STOP ME NOW, NOTHING AT ALL. Because of Lean IN, I can finally say I am PROUD of myself.
Once again, THOUSANDS of THANK YOUS to Lean IN and Sheryl Sandberg.