The English language has approximately 171,500 words. Today we’re going to examine this word: lean.

There’s a lot of transitional movement going on in my life. My people have asked me how I’ve been in this week and I’ve answered with: “I have no extra time; every moment is scheduled. There is no space for error.” There’s a lot of exciting things going on that I’ll write about soon. But right now it doesn’t feel exciting. It feels like pressure squeezing me from the outside in. My lungs feel like they are only breathing in air at the top. A friend of mine brilliantly described this feeling of not having enough time and rushing to get it all done as: “Life is a test and you’re about to fail”. It feels exactly like that. Like I’m going to fail my life SATs and never amount to anything and disappoint everyone and end up living under a bridge.

This word “lean” has my attention in this midst of ALL THE TASKS TO DO NOW, so today I’m pulling on the proverbial thread and unraveling this word and its relevance to us as busy people. It’s also the title of Sheryl Sandburg’s famous book: Lean In which encourages women to push themselves to do their best in life and in the workplace. I’ve been trying to read for months; I even have a hardcover copy in my possession, but dammit Sheryl, I already feel like I’m leaning in so far that my face is on the ground. I’ve got nothing. Even now as I write this, I look up at my laptop clock every few minutes and think: “S*** I need to write faster!”

Ooof.

I don’t want to feel like this. I don’t want my people to feel like this. So let’s unpack the word “lean” and try to put a different spin on this word that works for us and our sanity levels.

First the meanings:

1.) Lean (verb): to shift one’s weight in space (I think this is Sheryl’s interpretation), on to something, or someone

2.) Lean (adjective): without extra (in the case of a person, we might think of a “lean” person as thin)

When we feeling the pressure squeeze of life, I think both definitions apply. We shift our weight and we feel like we don’t have extra.

For the verb, it helps me to think of the preposition after lean. My French teacher in high school so delightfully called prepositions “stupid little words”, so you too can remember what “in”, “on”, “back” and “towards” mean. They are stupid little words of location but oh are they helpful. I’ve been doing the action of leaning, but not IN. Not right now. Leaning IN will have to wait for another season that isn’t so full. (This is true of the action and of me actually reading the book.) To lean IN conjures up this ethos of: “I’ve got this all on my own.” No. I don’t got this all on my own. So instead, I am leaning IN and FORWARD. I also take time to lean ON people. Lean ON the wall. Lean BACK on the couch. I lean ON my mattress for only 7 measly hours (I’m so busy I can’t get my 8+ hours of sleep and OMG I feel like such a sleep-deprived zombie). I’m leaning ON my people and things take my weight so that I don’t have to carry it and push it forward all the time. It’s too much for me to carry right now. I need some help. So I’m letting my people do things for me and I am so grateful to them. I will repay them someday when I am full and they are depleted. This is how we do sisterhood. And humanity.

For the adjective, it’s helpful for me to think of a lack extra of time as cutting the fat. We are so scared of fat in Western society, but it turns out we need it. For longevity, for energy, for padding, for protection. Our brains need fat in order for the nerves to fire appropriately and carry information. We need some, just enough. So if I am feeling lean in time as if there is no extra padding or not adequate nutritional power, then the adjective tells me that I need to focus on the verb and lean BACK or ON, and lighten up on the IN.

This has been fun, but I need to run my lovelies. I hope this post helps you unpack your own challenges with leaning in and I encourage / beg you to lean back on your favorite pillow or lean toward your people and ask for help.

Breathe and believe.

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