Think Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In doesn’t apply to you? Here’s why it might.

Oprah is calling Lean In, the new book written by Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, “the new manifesto for women in the workplace.” Sandberg uses her own experience—both her mistakes and successes—to offer women a guidebook on balancing a fulfilling professional career and family.

Do you have to be a young woman sitting in a cubicle to apply Sandberg’s advice? Not at all. Even if you’re still finishing your college degree and have no idea what you want to do with it yet, the book is still applicable to your developing career.

It’s counterintuitive to think you should “lean in” to your as-yet-to-be-determined career path, but leaning in is exactly what college students and recent grads should do. And here are three ways you can do it:

1. Focus on being heard, not liked

How many classes have you sat through where you smiled, nodded politely and generally showed the professor you were paying attention—but never raised your hand or spoke up?

Unfortunately, being likable and being successful are not the same thing. High GPA aside, star student status is really determined by how well your professors know you. Whether in school or at work, aim to be heard and not always liked. Ask challenging questions and voice your opinions.

Good professors and managers respect and will remember those who speak up, and they’ve got fantastic insights and contacts to offer your future career. It’s the connections you make now—when you’re floating from one career idea to another—that will help anchor you for the long haul.

2. Develop a lasting relationship with a mentor

Hopefully you’re involved in a few different student activities, or you’ve spent some time with administrators and professors at your school. If you’ve already graduated, think about the higher-ups at your current job—or even your parents’ friends. Find yourself a mentor.

Mentors are people who can and want to help guide your life and career. Since you don’t know what you want to do, aim to find someone who will be completely honest with you, who has a variety of experience and who you can count on to be there for years to come.

3. Fake confidence till you make it

One of the biggest lessons from Lean In is that people’s own lack of self-confidence is what really holds them back—far more so than outside influences.

When you don’t know what you want to do with your life, you probably lower your own expectations of yourself, fail to set big goals and stop being ambitious.

If you don’t know where you’ll be career-wise in the foreseeable future, apply self-confidence, set big goals and be ambitious about figuring it out. Make career exploration your job, and jump in full-force rather than leaning back.

College students and recent grads face far too many obstacles from external forces. Employment for 20-somethings in today’s barely recovering economy is still high, and the majors most schools offer rarely match the jobs employers have to offer. Why add your own internal doubt and uncertainty to that already heavy load?

Lean In tells us to choke down the fear, buck up the self-confidence and just go for it already. That’s advice we can all use.

Brie Weiler Reynolds is the Director of Content and Community at FlexJobs, the award-winning site for telecommuting and flexible job listings, and a former college career advisor. At FlexJobs, Brie offers job seekers career and work-life balance advice through the FlexJobs Blog and social media.


  1. Career Coach,

    Interesting- I’ve been hearing a lot about this book and corresponding movement. I appreciated your summary and notes on how this could apply to college students.

  2. Not sure what you want to do with your life? Lean In Anyway | anadventureworthtelling

    […] This article posits great advice in reaction to Sheryl Sandberg‘s book, Lean In.  I have been reading it throughout this week and have found it not only inspiring but allowing me to think critically about the workforce challenges for women, apply them to my work with my clients and the women at Mount Holyoke and even dig deeper into my own history of leaning in.  I must say that I feel further empowered to discuss Ms. Sandberg’s message with my peers- men and women- included.  I am thankful for her position in society as a Harvard undergrad and Business School grad, her role at Facebook as well as the candid nature of her book.  Women need other women to step up for them.  We operate best by building relationships with each other and forming a community both of conversation and support.  She was bold enough to speak out.  If she can do it, then so can you.  Here are some tips for taking the first step! […]

  3. be lean

    Really good path for bright future. Great suggestion.

  4. Rose winslet

    This is someone to have career conversations with. She’s both
    strategic and emotionally supportive. She will see the unpolished gem at
    the center of the conversation and point to it. Once she does, you’ll
    see it to. And that gem will then be your touchstone moving forward.


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