Leaning In with Sheryl Sandberg

I recently re-read Sheryl Sandberg’s first book, ‘Lean In’ and found that it resonated with me just as much in 2022 then it had in 2015, when I last read it. For those of you haven’t read it yet, you are missing out on a wonderful and quick read. I was able to finish the entire book on my flight from SFO to Dubai. 

Photo by Lena Kudryavtseva on Unsplash

Sheryl Sandberg shares so many gems throughout the book that I can’t possibly list them all. I will only list 5 of the ones that stood out to me the most:

  1. Yes, society has certain expectations from men and others from women and there are often institutional barriers set up that prevent or impede women from progressing in their careers. However, something we don’t often consider is how often women hold themselves back based on internal prejudices and emotions. There is a clear lack of self-confidence or reiteration of negative messages received since childhood.

I remember being called bossy when I became President of the Student Council in Manipal. I also remember being called a lingerer (or impatient) when I was at dental school at UW. Surprisingly, both of these messages came from men. Although, I do think that is a coincidence, it is interesting to note, that those comments were not directed at my male peers, who were equally hard-working. Why are women labelled as bossy, ambitious, and impatient, while men, in the same position, are considered motivated and go-getters?

While these terms and labels no longer affect me today, the incidents often pop up in my mind whenever I am considering taking on a new project and assessing my likability.  I wish this were not the case, but it is. And, giving other people labels, whether they are women or men, is a practice we need to do away with.

2. When assessing opportunities to take up, always take the one that will cause you to learn the most and learn fastest. Don’t say no to opportunities just because your degree wasn’t in it, or you feel you don’t have enough experience. Critical experience is gained while working for the opportunity itself!

I don’t think I would have ever imagined learning as much about dental insurances as I currently am, in my role as a Product Manager with Samsotech. In the past, I had made a quick decision about not participating with any dental insurances once I have my own dental practice. Now, I know that dental insurance is the only way a significant portion of our economy will be able to afford dental care. Patients simply do not budget for a dental expense, and unless you’re well-off, paying $1500 for a crown on a tooth that just broke, is going to be a big expense for you!

I had always known what a complicated labyrinth, the insurance industry was and so when I was encouraged to dive deep into the problem, learn as much as possible about it and come up with ideas that might streamline the process, I was taken aback at how much I learned. I was also especially surprised at how much of this I didn’t know while in dental school.

Pharmacists learn how to manage claims and auto adjudication while in pharmacy school, why don’t we?

The moral here is that I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to learn as much about my OWN field if I hadn’t gone OUTSIDE of it to peel back the layers. Sometimes, perspective is all you need.

3. Have a ‘fuzzy at best’ long-term goal and a focused 18- month plan.

I was always the person with a long to-do list and comprehensive 5, 10, 20 year plans. I still have those but have learned to give them less importance when something exciting and new falls on my lap.

If you get too focused on the long-term goal, you will most certainly miss opportunities that are around you. One such opportunity that I would have never expected to take was the LEND fellowship program from 2020-2021. It really changed my life. Attending a lecture every Monday for the whole year became something I looked forward to. The connections made in the tight knit community of friends, and students, along with the grant funding received from the Arc of WA made the opportunity once-in-a-lifetime.

What I learned in that one year, has inspired me to make several major decisions after, including applying for a residency program that starts in June 2022 and will be fully immersed in special care dentistry.

4. ‘The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.’ Alice Walker.

Every time I have felt essentially powerless, I am reminded of how much more I can do, compared with someone who doesn’t have my privilege and perspective. The last time this happened was when I realized I knew nothing about the business side of dentistry and it prompted me to found the New Dentist Business Club. This Club, that initially started out as an educational opportunity for me to expand my own horizons, has quickly evolved into an excellent networking platform to connect with professionals throughout our industry!

I’ve had the amazing opportunity, as a result of it, to connect fellow dentists to news jobs, speak at dental schools and get discounted services on popular dental products who sponsor our meetings.

5. ‘Will you be my mentor?’

It is true that the more you put yourself out there, the more approachable you appear, and the more people will reach out to you with the need to receive mentorship. My least favorite is when strangers message me on Instagram, asking to be my mentee.

It is heart-warming to see that kind of confidence and self-awareness coming from strangers, mostly young women, but that makes it all the more difficult for me to say no to. The truth is, no, I can’t be your mentor because I don’t know you. However, if you have a question or two, that you can’t easily get the answer to, after reading through easily available resources over the internet and your network, then yes, I can and will help you with that! 

One of my favorite mentees, was re entering the dental industry after a gap of nearly 15 years. After she heard me speak at a dental conference for Seattle King County Dental Society, she reached out over email, introduced herself and asked a few questions. Those questions were different from most because of her history of not being in the workforce. That line of questioning culminated in a phone call. And since then, the conversation just kept going.

We are now collaborating on a project involving a book on special care dentistry! While we never stopped to label our relationship, it is one of mentoring. I get a lot of help from her as she proofreads and sorts through complicated data for the book, and she gets help from me as I guide her on her dental school applications. It is a win-win, like most other successful mentoring relationships.

Have you read a good book recently? Let me know in the comments below!

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