The Story Economy Blog

Leaning In and Leaning Back


My sister Laura recently gave me this picture she found. It was taken at her house the day I graduated from college in 1996. I have a vague memory of standing there in her living room wearing my cap and gown, draped in the honor chords I was so proud of. Sure, my eyes are closed, but don’t I look adorable and young?

I didn’t have email yet, didn’t really understand what the internet was, didn’t have a cell phone, and had never lived away from home. But I was ready as hell to lean into life and get started with adulting. I wanted everything that was yet to happen to hurry up and begin.

When I think back on my teens, twenties, and thirties, the word that most comes to mind is eager. I was so so eager for the next thing to happen. Waiting months for anything was excruciating. My scale of time was days, weeks maybe. The thought of things taking years wasn’t fathomable. I wanted my next milestone, my next idea, my next accomplishment, my next place to visit, my next byline, now.

I didn’t even know this is how I was thinking about life until I stopped thinking about life that way. Until I wanted time to slow just a bit. About a year ago. Maybe two. The oldest kid starting middle school may have been the catalyst.

I still have plenty of goals, and I still get impatient at how long it takes certain things to coalesce. But my scale of time is quite different now. A school year no longer seems very long at all. It is not even September, and I know January is like tomorrow. I wish October was a little further away. It’s not that I don’t want my children to grow up. I really, really do want them to keep growing. I don’t romanticize their babyhood or toddlerhood, and have no desire to go back, because those were hard years. But now my kids are leaning in so hard to life, and living with such eagerness, and I find myself leaning back, wondering at how the speed has changed on me.

Most people experience this shift in midlife. I hear other forty- and fifty-somethings talk about it all the time. It’s still strange when it happens to you.

I was thinking about this time speeding up problem while running this past Sunday. We finally had nice weather, and I was lost in my long run. On the last downhill, I let loose and ran like mad—which felt great. I was only able to do this because a few years ago, I worked with a running coach to rebuild my stride. One of the things he taught me was the right way to run down a hill. I used to be so guarded when I ran downhill. The force of it put so much pressure on my quadriceps and I would crunch and scrunch to try to slow myself.

But my coach taught me to lean back when I ran down a hill. Like literally lean my upper body back as if I was falling. I didn’t trust it at first. But once I got the hang of it, I felt how the counterweight of leaning back took the pressure of my quads and let me actually run downhill freely. Leaning back is what let me finally engage and enjoy the ride.

I think that’s what I’m doing now. I’m leaning back—a little bit to slow down, but mostly as a way to be able to engage with my life. To see a day for a day, instead of passing it by on the way to a year.

I love me some Sheryl Sandberg leaning in—especially when it comes to women having a seat at the table. We have to lean in to opportunity. But when it comes to the passing of time? I’m leaning back.

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