Please! – DON’T “Lean In” ……. (And what to do instead…)

Please! – DON’T “Lean In” ……. (And what to do instead…)

When Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, first came out, I was horrified.

But not for any of the reasons that were popping up all over the media.

I was holding my head in my hands because what the book was promoting violated two of the most ancient and essential principles of Chinese medicine.

Simply put, Sandberg’s book basically instructed women to push to get ahead. This is the typical Western outlook about your career.

Here in the West, we operate on the assumption that it’s all up to you to push, to make things happen.

This is the “lean in” belief – you have to keep pushing forward.

Principle #1: Lean IN = Burn OUT

But Chinese medicine says that the “push” – that “lean” is guaranteed to be a direct route to total burn-out.

Chinese medicine teaches that you’re born with a deep reserve of inner strength and willpower.

But you’re only meant to tap into this energy during those rare times in life when there’s a short-term crisis. Then this inner power helps you endure, push through, tough it out till the difficulty is over.

But you’re not supposed to use this energy just to push through every day!

And that’s what “lean in” is making people feel they have to do.

When you buy into the belief that you have to drive yourself forward, you’re drawing from the well of your willpower and it eventually starts to run dry.

And the result can be health issues like adrenal exhaustion or chronic fatigue … or just total mental and emotional burn-out and loss of joy.

But that’s not the only thing that’s wrong with the concept of “lean In.”

Principle #2: Ancestors

Chinese medicine brings us more important wisdom here, in the concept of “Ancestors.”

You may have heard that in China they “honor the ancestors,” or you may have seen altars in a Chinese business or home, with incense, or offerings.

But there is a much richer and deeper meaning here than most people realize.

In Chinese culture, they believe that when a family member dies and passes over, they become a beneficent Ancestor, who beams blessings to the family from the other side.

Their role now is to download all the wisdom and power that they gained through their lives to the living family members, to support them in their journey.

In Chinese medicine, each organ of your body has a spiritual component, and Ancestor energy is said to be stored in your kidneys. You have two kidneys, one on each side of your back.

You can visualize them as the two hands of your ancestors, held up to support you, and to infuse you with energy, power, wisdom, and blessings to carry you through life.


Rather than “lean in,” and drain all your own energy, you’re actually meant to lean back on those hands, to relax into their strong support, and download their power.

You can imagine generation upon generation upon generation of ancestors, thousands, even millions of them, all standing behind you, holding up their hands to help carry you along.

You could say they’ve literally “got your back.”

If only you will lean back, and not “in.”

At its heart, this is really about TRUST

It’s actually an illusion that it’s all up to you to make things happen, that you have to figure it all out yourself.

Just like those invisible ancestors standing behind you offering support, there are always things happening behind the scenes that you don’t know about.

And sometimes, despite your well-intentioned efforts to get somewhere you think should be the goal, Life kindly guides you away from that, because it’s not the right way to go at all.

When I teach workshops, I often joke, “Remember that boy? That boy, who when you were 16, you were sure your life would be over if he didn’t ask you out? That you’d just die if you didn’t marry him?

And now you thank your lucky stars that never happened because he’s serving 20 years in prison?!

Or that job you were so devastated to not get hired for; you languished in self-criticism for months afterwards?

And then that company folded a year later, or you heard that it turned out to be a nightmarish working environment, and you realized you’d dodged a bullet by not getting that job?

What a ride!

When you look back in life, can you start to see all the unpredictable twists and turns your journey took that you never could have arranged or controlled, that brought you so many amazing experiences and achievements, and that are why you’re here at this place now?

And in fact, you see now that if you had just relaxed and gone along for the ride with more trust, you’d have had less stress and angst, and wasted less time and energy along the way.

If you lean in, you exhaust yourself trying to push.

If you lean back, you conserve your own energy and begin to draw from from the rich source of life-force that you’ve been unknowingly cut off from for so long.

If you lean back, you start to hear the wise guidance your ancestors are speaking through the intuitive voice deep inside you.

If you lean back, you begin to know you can trust the flow of Life, that it’s not all up to you.

And then, a miracle happens – Things start to just unfold effortlessly. And your life becomes even more wonderful that you had dared to hope for.

Float on the water

In Chinese medicine, there’s a nature image for this feeling of trusting that you’re being supported – It’s associated with water.

If you want to anchor this feeling in your system, imagine that you’re being carried along like a leaf floating on the river.

Or imagine the feeling you get when you sink into a hot bath. It’s like every cell in your body can start to relax. Ahhhh…..

Shall we create a new catchphrase? #LeanBack!

2 thoughts on “Please! – DON’T “Lean In” ……. (And what to do instead…)”

  1. Love this article! It’s a perfect reminder that pushing forward, no matter what, isn’t what gets us where we are going. Instead, relaxing into “what is” carries us along our path in a much kinder, gentler and more profound way. Thanks for reminding us of that, Jean.

  2. This is the perfect thing for me to read this morning, thank you, Jean! I am on the path of locating a new job and it has been trying my patience. I am so happy to be reminded that I am not in charge of the results and am not obliged to “make” things happen. As has always been the case in my life, everything unfolds just as it needs to. Keep up the wonderful work!

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