Monthly Archives: November 2013

Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg

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Book Description (Amazon): Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: motivating

I definitely found this book to be worthwhile. I like the candor with which Sandberg writes her stories. I definitely related to nearly all the book—if not directly myself, with others around me in the workplace (or in life). The book is structured so that each chapter is essentially its own topic, so I will sort of go through them one by one.

1. The Leadership Ambition Gap: What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?

This chapter is a discussion into why women (girls too as most children show this propensity) don’t have the ambition to be leaders. There are a lot of possibilities for this which Sandberg alludes to in various anecdotes including that women are always set up for it (Smart like Daddy. Pretty like Mommy.) or that women are afraid of being disliked (don’t want to be called “aggressive” or “bossy”) or that women give up on leadership because it’s too difficult to be a working mother or they have been burnt out from years of inequity. In the end though, Sandberg makes the point that while all of these things contribute to the issues, the real issue is that women often don’t “lean in” and lead because they are too afraid.

2. Sit at the Table

The main point of this chapter was that women are afraid to “sit at the table”. Seems obvious. But women are more likely to sit on the fringe of the meeting than feel justified to sit at the table with the men. This is related to the fact that women are more likely to put down or undermine their accomplishments. They are also less likely to take on new positions (citing that they are not qualified or need more time in their current position), and they are less likely to ask questions in class. I have the tendency to sit on the fringe of meetings—although I would like to think that I only do that when the meetings only sort of relate to me. I did learn as a child to accept my accomplishments. I had a teacher who instilled that into me claiming that most smart students tend to hide their intelligence to “fit in”. She was one of the best teachers I had. I think that everyone (male and female), needs to learn how to graciously accept and promote their accomplishments. Don’t make excuses. Just say thank you when someone compliments you. Take credit for your work and good ideas.  Take an opportunity when it is given to you. Also the “fake it until you make it” is a good suggestion. You can fake confidence, and there are times when you should. (Never did Sandberg go into the situation that I had at work where you never are provided an opportunity but you see it offered to all the men around you…but that’s another story. Perhaps I should write my own book.)

3. Success and Likeability

For the most part, this chapter annoyed me. Maybe it’s because I have a very blasé opinion of being liked. Frankly, I don’t care if people like me or not. I try to be true to myself and not phony and inevitably, there will be others with whom I become friends. I think it’s a skill that more people should have. And really, it’s like that fable of the old man, young man, and the donkey. You can’t please everyone no matter how hard you try. You just need to be true to yourself and be able to justify your actions. However, the research that was provided about Heidi vs. Harold really blew my mind and really made me disappointed in society. In 2003, a Columbia Business School professor gave his class a case about an entrepreneur and the class was to determine how capable and likeable (as a colleague) the entrepreneur would be. However, the twist was that in half the class, the entrepreneur was named Heidi. In the other half, he was Harold. On the positive, both were deemed to be equally competent. However, Harold was much more likeable. Heidi came off as “selfish”. Not cool.

4. It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder

For the most part, I think this chapter is pretty obvious. You need to be willing to take lateral moves or potentially downward moves to get to the position that you want. The position needs to have a potential for growth and sometimes you reach the top rung of your “ladder” and there is nowhere to go but over. Sometimes there is a better opportunity out there, or sometimes the position that you are in isn’t right for you. It’s ok to change. Change is good. I do like the idea of the 18 month plan. I stopped setting extremely long term goals a while back and started setting goals for about a 5 year plan. That way I am able to work on something to get me to that next position. If I change my mind about what I want to do in 5 years, then I just adjust my path. It works better for me and makes it less overwhelming. The chapter can be summarized by this: taking risks, choosing growth, challenging ourselves, and asking for promotions are important elements in managing a career.

5. Are You My Mentor?

This chapter surprised me in a way that I didn’t expect to be surprised. I have been one to lament the fact that I do not have a mentor at work. Sandberg suggests that many women probably do have mentors but it is not necessary to have someone who is officially “your mentor”. Usually the mentor chooses the mentee and while it is a compliment to ask someone to be your mentor, it puts them in a really uncomfortable position. Perhaps they don’t have the time and then have to turn you down. Luckily I never went so far as to ask someone to be my mentor, but I know now that I at least have a few people who I could count as mentors, even if they don’t know it. I do wish Sandberg had also discussed role models along with this but alas, she did not.

6. Seek and Speak Your Truth

This chapter is kind of a “duh!” chapter in that the main point is that effective communication is a big deal. Well, obviously. However, Sandberg gives some good examples of it and also shows how companies can alter their communication channels to be friendlier to women. For example, many men are reluctant to have “closed door conversations” with women. This is harmful to women’s career growth since in many cases, the higher ups are men. Adjustments need to be made to handle this more fairly so that it stops being the “good old boys’ club”. A few other key points—sometimes effective communication involves more listening than speaking. It’s OK to show emotion at work and talk about the tough issues. You can’t ever fully leave your personal life at home. Your brain doesn’t work that way.

7. Don’t Leave Before You Leave

Basically don’t plan your whole life when you don’t know where it is going to take you. Sandberg reveals story after story of women forgoing fulfilling careers and job opportunities within their own careers because one day, they might have a family. I agree that I have always thought about this in the back of my mind, but recently I have stopped thinking about it at all. I figure if I change my mind and decide to have children, I will worry about it then. And we will figure it out—both my husband and me.

8. Make Your Partner a Real Partner

My husband loved this chapter. Ok he hasn’t read the book (yet) but I sent him the statistic that said “The risk of divorce lessens by half when a wife earns half the income and a husband does half the housework.” He asked me if that was a threat. I then proceeded to tell him that men with mothers who stayed home were less likely to help with the housework. I said I was pulling my end of the bargain. Didn’t he care about our marriage? (I am joking. My husband helps with the chores and the cats and my mental sanity! He’s great.) Basically, Sandberg is encouraging you to have a partner who is also your champion. I think that’s a good goal for anyone.

9. The Myth of Doing It All

Sandberg references the section in Bossy Pants where Tina Fey is constantly asked how she manages it all. Basically Sandberg and Fey come up with the same conclusions. You prioritize and you manage what you want. You may not know the names of every kid in your child’s class, but your children have their homework done and are dressed for school. Stop being a perfectionist. No one has to do it all.

10. Let’s Start Talking About It

Ignoring an issue doesn’t make it go away. We need to be feminists and embrace that word. Feminism isn’t evil. It’s working towards equality for all. A lot of times, these gender issues are so ingrained into peoples’ subconscious that they don’t even realize that they are doing them. It’s important to bring those to people’s attention in a way that will promote change. This may be the (second) most important point in the book, but I think it’s also the most difficult (but I think it still can and needs to be done).

11. Working Together Toward Equality

Yes, yes, a billion times yes!!! Women need to step it up and start enabling each other, and start appreciating our differences. Who cares if you’re a stay at home mom, or a career woman, or both, or something different than any of those. We aren’t all the same, so we shouldn’t be treated the same. What works for me probably doesn’t work for you (and vice versa). And building upon that, when you have the opportunity to help another woman, for goodness sake, do it! Our future depends upon it.

Verdict: 4 stars

I asked for this book for my birthday because the library had about 300 holds on the copies that they have of it. So you know that you’re on to something notable. I think Sandberg did a good job presenting a non-fiction book of a sticky topic that got you excited but not so frustrated (aka she showed examples of inequity alongside examples where women were successful). She is honest and frank about her own shortcomings and successes (although I’m not sure she fully takes her own advice from Ch. 2 on this) which I think makes her relatable. At the same time though, it’s not an epic story with a lot of new information. And there are some questions of her narrowcasting a bit based on her own experience. But the fact that the book is popular and she is getting people talking about these issues easily warrants 4 stars in my book. It definitely gave me some things to think about with regards to my own career. (Also, I loved the story about the working mom forgetting to pack her kids’ lunch and ordering a pizza to be sent to their school. Best.Mom.Ever.)

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Cloud Atlas – the movie

So for our “Book Made into a Movie” category, once we finish the book, we watch the movie and compare/contrast. For once (probably in my entire life), I think I liked the movie better. For the post about the book review, it is here.

Major Differences in the Movie:

Instead of going through the stories 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, the movie juxtaposes smaller sections of each story together. In general, I liked this better, however at some times I felt like the sections were too short and it was a bit confusing.

In story 1, (part 2), Adam is reconnected with his wife, Tilda. He and Tilda go against her father’s wishes to move to the east coast to help the abolitionists.

In story 2, with Robert Frobisher, Eva, Vyvyan and Jocasta’s daughter does not exist. Robert misguidedly comes on to Vyvyan who laughs and rejects him. Robert decides to leave with Cloud Atlas, and Vyvyan informs him that his reputation will be ruined. Robert points a gun at Vyvyan and tells him that he is leaving. Vyvyan tells Robert to shoot him, and says something along the lines of “your type never does”. Robert does and then escapes to finish Cloud Atlas. I found this made the suicide a bit more realistic or understandable. The police were hunting him for shooting (although not killing) Vyvyan. His reputation was ruined. Also story 2 now occurs in Scotland. No real reason why.

In story 6, Zachry was a grown man, not a teenager like in the book. The movie created a love story between him and Meronym ending when the two leave Hawaii to live on another planet with lots of children and grandchildren.

Artistic Liberties Taken by the Movie:

This is where I found the movie to be quite interesting. The movie definitely created a more cohesive story than the book. The comet birthmarks were really obvious. In the book, I missed about half of them because it seemed such an afterthought. Only a handful of actors, despite the quantity of characters in the book, signed onto this film, and after seeing it, I understand why. In the film, most actors played 5+ characters. This to me also suggested something that was merely alluded to in the book–reincarnation.

However, it was a bit unclear to me in both the book and the movie, how these roles were supposed to fit together. In the book, it is suggested that “all of the main characters” are reincarnations of each other. That would mean that Adam Ewing, Robert Frobisher, Luisa Rey, Timothy Cavendish, Somni, and Meronym are all reincarnations of each other. However, Timothy Cavendish would have likely been born before Luisa Rey, so that doesn’t really work out. (Luisa’s story is set in 1975 and Timothy Cavendish is 65 years old in 2004. You do the math on that one.)

In the movie, it’s basically the same, however, the same actor does not play all of those roles. So the reincarnation aspect that I liked about using one actor for multiple roles seems to make less of an effect. We discussed in our meeting whether there was any relation between which actors were “good” characters and which were “bad” ones. There seemed to be some connection here. The actor who played Agent Smith in The Matrix (I don’t know his name. He will always be Agent Smith to me) was always a bad character (obviously. If he played a good character, I for one would never buy it). Halle Berry was always a good (Luisa & Meronym) or neutral (Jocasta) character. Tom Hanks though, was all over the board. He played bad, good, and in between. For good characters, he played Zachry and Isaac Sachs. For bad characters, he played Henry Goose and Dermot Hoggins (the thug in the Cavendish section who throws the critic off the roof). Looking on IMDb to determine who played who, the tag of the movie says “An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.” If that one soul is Henry’s and Zachry’s, why doesn’t Henry have the comet birthmark?

Adding the reuniting with Tilda created a bit more of a point to Adam’s story. He rejects helping Tilda’s father with slavery and instead moves with Tilda to the east coast to join the abolitionist movement. The characters of Adam and Tilda are also the same as the characters of Somni and Hae-Joo. I think this tries to take the film to a more romantic level, suggesting perhaps that love will overcome?

Overall:

I liked the movie better than the book. But I would probably still only give the movie 3-3.5 stars. I feel like without the background of having read the book, watching the movie would have been just as hard to follow as the book was. There were still too many discrepancies.  The movie tied everything together a bit better, but there was still no logical path of reincarnation. There was no suggestion of how we got from the Timothy Cavendish story to the Somni story, or why Somni was a goddess of a small tribe of Hawaiians many years in the future. There was still no reason given as to what caused “The Fall”. And therefore, there was still no cohesive point to all the stories.

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Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

photo-2Book Description (Amazon): A postmodern visionary who is also a master of styles of genres, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian lore of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: frustrating

So the reason I have not posted anything in a whole month is because I was struggling through this book. I really really wanted to like it. I didn’t.

The book has six essentially separate story lines that continue throughout the ages. The first story was one of my least favorites and made it really hard to get into the book at all. It was set in the 1800s and was written like a classic. I have a lot of trouble reading classics because I find them too flowery. Another issue that I had was that the book was written in a way that it went like this 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. So when you returned to the story lines of stories 1 and 2 (and actually all of them really), you had forgotten where the story had left off previously. And lastly, I find that when I read books with multiple stories, there are some I enjoy and some I basically skip over because I want to read more about the stories I enjoy. This book definitely had that. I moderately enjoyed stories 3, 4, and 5, and had no interest in the others.

Story line 1: Set in the 1800’s, Adam Ewing, a notary from San Francisco is on a boat in the South Pacific where he witnesses the situation of the Maori vs. Moriori. One of the Moriori stowed away in Adam’s room and is saved by him. (Pt. 2) Adam Ewing discovers that his supposed friend Dr. Goose is poisoning him to steal his life savings. The Moriori who Adam saved in Part 1 comes back to rescue him in Part 2.

Story line 2: Robert Frobisher, a young man who has disgraced his family, appears at the home of legendary musician Vyvyan Ayrs to be his apprentice. This section is fully written in letters to Robert’s friend Rufus Sixsmith and is set in the early 1900s. Frobisher has an unusual comet shaped birthmark, and begins writing a musical piece called “Cloud Atlas”. He also asks Sixsmith to find a book written by Adam Ewing as he found part of it in Arys’ library. He begins having an affair with Vyvyan’s wife Jocasta as Vyvyan contracted syphilis at some point and is dying. (Pt. 2) Vyvan and Jocasta’s daughter returns from her boarding school professing a love for Robert. Jocasta threatens him. His continuing letters to Rufus go unanswered. Vyvyan admits he knows of the affair. As Robert is packing up to leave Vyvyan’s, he discovers the other half of Adam Ewing’s book. He finishes “Cloud Atlas” and commits suicide. I had no idea why. The Internet tells me it was because he was in love with  Rufus the whole time. Missed that and it isn’t apparent when we meet Sixsmith in the next story.

Story line 3: In somewhat modern times (70s) in California, Luisa Rey works for a somewhat seedy magazine but aspires to be like her journalist father Lester. She decides to follow a lead investigating a potentially unsafe nuclear power plant after she speaks to an older Rufus Sixsmith (from Story 2) when they are stuck in the elevator together. Rufus is killed and during Luisa’s search of the room, she finds Frobisher’s letters to him and decides to acquire a copy of “Cloud Atlas”. Leaving the nuclear power plant with some reports of the secrets, her car is pushed off a cliff into the ocean. Luisa also has a comet birthmark. (Pt. 2): Luisa doesn’t die. She makes it out alive and is simultaneously still chased by the hired killer Smoke. Joe Napier helps her escape and Smoke and Napier die in a gun fight. Luisa publishes the story about the corruption.

Story line 4: In modern times, old fuddy duddy Timothy Cavendish, a publisher, is “accidentally” sent to an old folks’ home by his brother to which he cannot get out of. (Part 2) He befriends some other residents at the nursing home and they form a plan to escape. They escape and Cavendish takes up his old life quite easily and publishes the Luisa Rey story. Which seems weird because Luisa Rey is probably still alive during this story line but she never actually makes an appearance.

Story line 5: In future times in Korea, a genetically modified slave clone named Somni 451 works as a server as a restaurant. It is revealed that there are many grown people which are used for various service industries across society. Eventually Somni “ascends” and gains more knowledge and self-awareness than a clone is ever supposed to have. She becomes involved in a sort of rebel union and is used to help their cause to gain awareness of the plight of the fabricants. The story is told by way of an interviewer asking questions of Somni. (Pt. 2): Somni is still following Hae-Joo and the rebels. She finds that fabricants never are actually “released” from their servitude after 12 years like everyone believes. Instead they are killed and turned into food. She writes a book to tell her tale to the people and is then arrested and sentenced to death.

Story line 6: In even further future times, Zachry, who is impossible to understand, tells a story about his young life on the island of Hawaii. The story reflects Story 1’s plot line of two lines of native peoples–one peaceful and one warlike. Zachry is part of the peaceful one whose people continue to be picked off by the others. We also find that this civilization worships the god Somni. Periodically, Zachry’s people are visited by people, “the Prescients”, from a distant land. One time they arrive, one of them, Meronym, stays with them for a year. It is apparent throughout this story that something bad happened to civilization and that Meronym is the interviewer from Story 5. At the end, Zachry goes on the ship with Meronym as the rest of his people have been captured or killed by the Kona.

Verdict: 2.5 stars.

I felt like this book was more of a series of disconnected short stories, only half of which I liked. The stories, especially the ones I did not like, felt to be more of a writing exercise than a publishable work–made up languages, incomplete plots and a heavy handed moral compass. While there was a bit of connection between each story, it was so weak in most stories that it just felt like an afterthought. Some of the characters had these comet shaped birthmarks. Some didn’t (or if they did, I missed it). There was some suggestion that these characters were related–perhaps reincarnations of each other. I found that a distraction as it was never fully explored. I wanted more. I am not really that excited to see the movie, but I will be watching it with my book club on Sunday and will write a review of it afterwards.

P.S. I hate movie covers on books. At least I read this book electronically so I didn’t have to look at the cover that often. Also I signed it out from the library 3x (6 weeks). I think that was the longest I’ve taken on a book all year!

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Filed under 2.5 stars, Book Club, Book Review