The Jungle Gym.

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We are home from Mexico! I was thrilled to walk into our creaky old house at 1am feeling a balance of appreciation for both the time away and a warm home to return to. While I am feeling quite inspired by our travels, my energy level is much lower than I hoped upon our return. As I recover (quickly) I did want to comment on some thought-provoking reading I did while away.

I am approximately four years late to the trend, but I finally got around to reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I feel that I have chosen to read this collection of ideas and arguments at a seemingly crucial part of my young adult life. Her writings are honest and intelligent, and I appreciate the level of detail and research she presents when supplying supplemental readings for her arguments. I find myself diving deeper and deeper down the Google rabbit hole when referring to her many references.

There are many ideas she reinforces that I identify with, but I choose now to focus on a simple phrase that I heavily underlined in blue pen: “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”

Of course they are! Why do we still believe in the traditional “climbing the ladder” idea of a career? Why should we be restricted to exactly what we already do? Where is the creativity, the growth, the expansion? The jungle gym metaphor strikes true with me as I leap from one branch of my field to another as I leave my job and begin graduate work. I was troubled  when some colleagues did not understand my decision this spring to pursue something I have less experience in. For me, I acknowledge that there is a high amount of risk in essentially pursuing something new, but the potential for reward is great when you consider the vast amount of knowledge you can gain when pursuing a new path.

Another aspect of the jungle gym metaphor I like is the option to personalize your career. The next step of a career does not need to be a cookie-cutter version of someone else’s experience. With the jungle gym metaphor, there is freedom to step to the side and try something new. And those sidesteps can be big or small. They can include leaving a field entirely. And they most certainly can include leaving temporarily to have children. The beauty of this approach is whichever path you take, there is always opportunity to reach further for the top. You just have to be willing to work harder and work smarter. I guess an accurate metaphor could be a rock-climbing wall, too! But now I digress.


It’s a simple idea, but I was thrilled to read it. It was a reminder that you can choose to refine your skills in whichever way you choose, and that growth and success can be shared by all of us simultaneously. The most important thing is to move forward confidently and work hard for whatever the top of your jungle gym may be.

Ms. Sandberg also spoke as keynote speaker this spring at UC Berkeley’s Commencement. Her speech went viral, and for good reason. You can find her address to the graduates here.

See you soon.

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