Leaning in, with clementines

Can you have a big career, be ambitious, and still appreciate a clementine? Can you achieve great things professionally and still appreciate “the color, the texture, the way the peel came off in almost one big piece?”

Of course, right? So maybe you’ll understand why I am flummoxed by Kristin van Ogtrop’s editor’s note in May’s Real Simple. For those who don’t read Real Simple as religiously as I do, van Ogtrop is the long-serving editor of this magazine, and as such, she addresses readers every month.

This month, she elected to write about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. A lot of us have been writing about the book lately (see my review here). I quite liked it. Van Ogtrop did not. She writes that “her message should inspire me, and instead it makes me want to unfriend her. And as ridiculous as it might sound, I couldn’t figure out why until my Clementine Epiphany.”

One day, in the office kitchenette, van Ogtrop found herself peeling a clementine. She stopped and admired it, and thought “slow down.” People, she noted, write entire poems about things this small and beautiful.

“Here’s the thing,” van Ogtrop writes. “I don’t want to be striving for bigger/better/higher/more every minute of every day. I don’t always want to have a larger goal. That just sounds exhausting and, worst of all, completely joyless. I want to enjoy my days: past, present, and future.”

The path of the clementine, however, is “a joyful path. When I stopped myself in the office kitchen, I suppose I was telling myself to lean back for a moment. I don’t really want to lean back for long. But I don’t want to lean in, either.”

Ok. Here we have the editor of a major women’s magazine — a position that requires an enormous amount of ambition, talent, and work to achieve — caricaturing a life of ambition as joyless. And misrepresenting Sheryl Sandberg’s message to act like she doesn’t want to enjoy her days (past, present or future). Or appreciate clementines. Really?

The truth is, people who’ve leaned in to their careers — people who run magazines, say, or are the chief operating officer of Facebook — tend to earn more control over their time. Because they have this control, they are better able than many other people to pause and enjoy the moment. I quoted Ashton Kutcher’s musings in another post that “True luxury is being able to own your time — to be able to take a walk, sit on your porch, read the paper, not take the call, not be compelled by obligation.” An editor-in-chief can access this luxury better than an EIC’s personal assistant can. Sandberg leaves the office at 5:30 most nights to have dinner with her kids. Maybe they sometimes eat clementines. Maybe they even enjoy them (when the peel comes off in one piece).

I like to stop and smell the flowers too. Particularly the magnolia in my front yard. But it is a false dichotomy to claim that being ambitious, and caring about one’s career, is incompatible with enjoying life, and even appreciating small things. There is plenty of time in a real life (even a real simple life) for both. I’m pretty sure van Ogtrop knows that. So I’m mystified why Real Simple is telling readers otherwise.