"What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

In my desire for this post to be perfect, I've procrastinated unspeakably in writing it. But if there's anything I should have gotten out of "Lean In" aside from the question that titles this post, it's the other major slogan of the book: "Done is better than perfect."

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of listening to Sheryl Sandberg speak at HBS, a crowning moment in the institution's W50 Campaign celebrating the 50th anniversary of women being admitted to the business school. She was poised, her words were inspiring, and I came out of the auditorium with a free copy of her book and a new perspective on the woman, viewing her less as the COO of Facebook and more as the business world's Gloria Steinem.

Anne-Marie Slaughter's piece in the New York Times is one critique that nails what I and many others feel were the most salient flaws of "Lean In." But even though Sandberg speaks from a place of privilege at this point in her career (and arguably ever since she started working as Larry Summers' protégé) and her focus in the book is more internal than external (how women hold themselves back more than how institutions and systems hold women back), reading the book was worthwhile. I'm still going to say that "If Men Could Menstruate" and other things by Gloria Steinem are funnier and cleverer, but Sandberg's "Lean In" was empowering, and to my delight, didn't resort to man-bashing to be a solid piece of feminist writing.

A little over a week after reading the book (and now midway through another book to which Sandberg made reference in her speech, "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" by Peggy Orenstein) I'm still mulling over the question emblazoned on the walls of Facebook that "Lean In" asks its target audience of ambitious, and well-educated women: "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

Fear of failure, specifically fear of not being as good at something (especially something that I used to be good at), has stopped me from doing plenty of things. Things ultimately worked out, but when I was looking for jobs last year, 30+ applications later, I was so afraid of getting another "no," or worse, hearing nothing at all, from some HR representative at a company I cared about that I gave up on applying to jobs by March. Until last week, I avoided actively studying and practicing my Chinese because I was afraid that I'd never exceed, let alone get back to the level of Mandarin proficiency I'd reached in college. Right now, part of me is afraid of trying a Pilates class again because I struggled so much today and felt like I was the weakest, least-coordinated, and most hopeless person in the room when it came to fitness.

Even when it comes to the smallest, most frivolous things, these fears have handily consumed me. In part out of failure to recognize these fears and in part out of fear that I won't be able to conquer these fears, I realize that I never really put up much of a fight against them.

So with this awareness, it's time to mangle Hamlet and "take arms against a sea of [fears] and by opposing, end them" by owning them. Tomorrow, instead of being afraid of being the worst person in class, I'll get my butt onto a yoga mat be proud of myself for showing up and trying again. This week, I won't be afraid of how out of practice I am and I'll look up every character I don't remember until I can completely understand the Chinese news article I'm making myself read. And by next year, I won't let my fear of being rejected prevent me from applying to jobs I'm passionate about this time next year (even if I don't fit every qualification to the letter).

I can't get past the failure before I get past the fear of failure. So, Sheryl, I'm "leaning in" to the fear.