A few weeks ago, as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, I came to campus distressed and deflated. I had been working hard on an application for a prestigious fellowship that was due later that day, but was convinced that my proposal wasn't good enough. I felt naive and that my work was that of an amateur.
Looking for absolution and emotional permission to give up, I turned to a classmate, Caroline James. Instead of the kind shoulder I sought, she gave me a challenge and asked, “Have you ever heard of leaning in?”
This is the concept popularized recently by Facebook chief operating office Sheryl Sandberg, who believes that women need to put doubts aside and confidently “lean in” to positions of leadership, even if they don't feel ready. “Good is better than perfect,” Caroline told me. “You may not get it, but you’ll never get it if you don’t apply.”
I instantly felt both shamed and called to action. In the preceding weeks, as graduation approached, time and time again I had heard female colleagues sigh wistfully, reflecting on how they’d love to get a job at some particular dream firm of theirs, but they’d never stand a chance. These are talented women about to earn a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
While it can be hard to get any job fresh out of school, some of my friends were convinced it wasn’t even worth trying for their top choice firms. I have made it my personal crusade to fight this kind of thinking, but much to my dismay, I found myself in the exact same mindset.