On Thursday night, I received the final proof of my new book, ready to go to print on Friday morning. I scanned over the cover, checked the layout and was just about ready to send the all clear to my publisher... when my blood suddenly ran cold.
I have four quotes from famous authors featured on the cover - one on the front from Seth Godin, and three on the back. But on Thursday night, it all of a sudden hit me that every one of the authors was a man. In fact, every one was a white man over 50.
In the preface to my book, I boldly claim my right to be in this space, as a young female with something to say about strategy and leadership. I even use the line - I kid you not - "I'm not a white man over 50."
Sure, I might not be - but every one of the people who we'd considered credible enough to endorse the book were. Oops.
I had a mildly dramatic 'Stop the press!' moment, and got my grovel on, reaching out to female authors I admire with the hopes of nabbing an urgent read-through and endorsement. By the grace of the universe, the exceptional Kim Scott (if you haven't read Radical Candor, do it now. Or watch the this short video. This woman is amazing.) made space over her weekend to read my book, as we both juggled kids and life in between. You Don't Need An MBA now features a marvellous endorsement from Kim, and I have a new friend. Nice.
Now, it's not like I hadn't included any women in my original reach out. It's not like I did this on purpose. But, like it or not, despite my effort, I was living out of alignment with my values.
When our values run even mildly in opposition to the status quo, sticking to them isn't always easy, no matter how much we believe them. The systemic and structural forces at play push everything toward the path of least resistance, and it's how we find ourselves a cog in the wheel, wondering how we've got here.
It's how leaders who desperately want an innovative and agile culture find themselves buried under bureaucracy and risk aversion. Its how outspoken feminists find themselves unwittingly feeding the patriarchy (this happened to me a few months ago, when I included a now redacted 'Karen' reference in this article. Ugh. I'm grateful to the wonderful reader who called that one out!) It's how we put our families second by accident, when work gets mad, or sacrifice our integrity for a project or sale that we feel we can't say no to.
What's right and what's easy often aren't the same thing. We don't need to beat ourselves up about getting it wrong, but we do need to sometimes take a deep breath and bravely stand up for what we believe in.
I firmly believe that values are no good unless they've got actions to go with them - and that boundaries are values on legs. The world rarely falls in when we stick up for ourselves, and while we might not always be popular, we do earn respect - for ourselves, and from others.
Nothing that matters happens by accident. But living a life that's congruent with your values gives you the chance to feel good about the choices you make, regardless of how things pan out. You're likely to slip up and make poor calls along the way, but that's all part of it.
I did a bit of that yesterday, with a LinkedIn post that's gone bonkers. Practicing what we preach is risky. It's brave, and sometimes it carries a cost - but it is almost always worth it.