Life Is Far Better When You Extend A Hand: My Lean In Story

Speaking at Palms LA for the Lean In Second Anniversary Brunch

Speaking at Palms LA for the Lean In Second Anniversary Brunch (Image via Jessica Liu)

This speech was originally given as an off-the-cuff speech for the Lean In Beijing Second Year Anniversary Brunch at Palms LA in Liangmaqiao, and then posted on the Lean In Beijing WeChat account (follow at WeChat id: leaninbeijing) on Wednesday, July 29, 2015; please forgive any inconsistencies.

Life is far better when you extend a hand: The power of passing it on

I was just speaking with Alicia; her story inspired me, and made me think—we’ve all really been creating our own “lean in moments” for a long time. Every time we make a decision that takes courage, when we do something that’s a right decision for ourselves—we’re having a “lean in moment.”

I’ve now lived in Beijing for over three years, and my experiences with Lean In Beijing have helped me find and secure my “dream job,” and has allowed me to develop some of my most treasured relationships. But better still, these experiences and relationships have shown me the values, qualities, and character I want to express and embody in my own life.

The biggest takeaway in my Lean In experience is that life is far better when you extend a hand.

I read the original book Lean In while on vacation in the States, and loved it so much that I shared it with my Chinese girlfriends back where I was living in Beijing. I lent the book to friends and blogged about their reactions to the text. One of the original co-founders told me about a potential Lean In Beijing group forming when I told her about my blog. She immediately extended an invitation and said to come along to the first meeting—that’s the power of passing it on.

Life is far better when you extend a hand—and we are more powerful when we support each other than if we try to tear each other down.

The Nigerian-American feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose TED talk “We Should All Be Feminists” was famously sampled on Beyonce’s ***Flawless, says, “We raise girls to see each other as competitors.”

We can see this highly dramatized in Hollywood movies such as Mean Girls, but it can happen so much more subtly in our own individual relationships.

Have you ever gotten jealous over someone else’s success? Tried to compete with other women over a guy? We’ve all been in “Mean Girl” situations.

Through my experiences and personal relationships I’ve developed with these women (gesturing to the women in the room), I’ve seen the power of collaborative relationships—the strength in supporting each other, rather than working to tear each other down.

There are so many practical ways we can support each other—forwarding and circulating potential job posts, revising work such as resumes, speeches, and other writing, connecting friends with potential interviewers, mentors, and other valuable connections. Pulling people into your network not only supports them, but it strengthens you. One of the biggest ways that I’ve seen how we can “extend a hand,” and pass it on, is simply to be inclusive and loving, supporting others in the ways that we’d like to be supported.

We joke as a group, because we say in our first year as Lean In Beijing, all of us left our jobs or found new ones. I ended up finding my “dream job,” not only through the emotional support of the group, but also through their practical guidance and support.

I want to also emphasize and celebrate the importance of including men in this extension. It was the actions of many men that helped me lean in. In particular, it was the practical support of two former male coworkers that showed me what I needed to do to find the next right job for me on my career path.

Goofing at Palms LA for the Lean In Second Anniversary Brunch (Image via Lean In Beijing)

Goofing at Palms LA for the Lean In Second Anniversary Brunch (Image via Lean In Beijing)

One in particular was patient enough to offer his insights and advice through the job hunt. He provided me connections to different agencies. He helped review and revise my resume. When I did get the interviews, he had me call him and coached me through a mock interview process—what a way to lean in together. That’s the power of passing it on.

One of his favorite topics to discuss was the salary package—and how to negotiate to get what you want. He showed me why I needed to ask for more, how much I should be asking for, and how to effectively stand up for myself and my needs.

It was being on the receiving end of these selfless acts that today, one of my greatest joys is being able to pass it on–helping others by sharing the knowledge and insights I have gained thus far from being a young professional working abroad.

It’s an act of power to extend a hand—and passing on your own knowledge and experiences only allows for more gratitude and abundance for you.

Instead of seeing each other as competitors, we can see each other—the entire brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind—as collaborators and teammates as we lean in together.

Find others’ Lean In Stories and more about Lean In Beijing on their WeChat account; follow at WeChat id: leaninbeijing.

The original Lean In Beijing circle meets with Sheryl Sandberg in 2013

The original Lean In Beijing circle meets with Sheryl Sandberg in 2013 (Image via Lean In Beijing)

Jill Abramson and Mean Girls

“She’s not even that pretty.”

I was hanging out with a group of new and old coworkers, and I found myself openly trash-talking a girl who had left with a flippant remark.

“I mean she has a hot body, but her face is ugly.”

“Morning after guilt” is simply the best, said no one ever.

How did I get home?” “Where is my bike??” “They sharpied what on my face???”

Our firsts thoughts are often funny, unfiltered, and 100% where our minds should have been before we did the aforementioned guilty deed. In this case, there was no humor, just remorse.

How could I have said that?”

Last week, I had gotten into an argument with a close guy friend of mine about Jill Abramson and her dismissal at the New York Times. Our “debate”: Was gender an issue in her dismissal? Me: Duh. Editing while female. Wage gap. A male editor would never be criticized for being “pushy.” Him: Downplaying the role of gender, indicating there are other factors that go into a compensation package, and he was saying that was probably what happened in the Abramson case. Despite the many wrinkles of the Abramson issue, including the way it messily unraveled–to paraphrase Jessica Goldstein, embarrassingly to the Times, being a media organization–this is not the main point of my story here.

The point is, quoting Tina Fey as Ms. Norbury in the now cult-classic Mean Girls, “There’s been some girl-on-girl crime here.”

The morning after our night out, I guiltily realized that I’d put down that girl I hadn’t even properly met.

By saying those things, I was just perpetuating a cycle, making it okay to judge, enshrining “attractiveness” as the #1 criteria for that judgment.

As someone who lives and works abroad, with friends from around the world and with backgrounds different from my own, I’d like to think I’m a pretty open-minded, non-judgmental person.

I’d also like to think I’m a feminist. I’m involved with a women’s professional development group that strives to give women the tools they need to carve their own paths and define their own version of success and happiness.

But I was not exactly pleased with myself when I recalled, “She’s not even that pretty.”

Before the Abramson discussion, my guy friends had been sitting with a college-age girl, but by the time we left for a different joint, she’d left.  I hadn’t spoken to the girl, or even learned her name. And when we bounced to grab some late-night snacks, I threw out my dismissive critique without a second thought.


“I mean she has a hot body, but her face is ugly.”

Given the social context, what was the role those words played? In other words, if I’m so open-minded and feminist, why would I tear this girl down?

With my new, successful female colleague to whom I said the comment, I was “strengthening ties,” bonding with her by making fun of someone else.

With my guy friends present, the comment was as much for them, I was cutting this girl down to elevate my own status. If she “wasn’t that pretty,” maybe they’d see me as “hot.”

But I was just threatened, insecure.

The language we use to describe others has a large, lasting impact.

A well-circulated, but little-known fact is that the movie Mean Girls was actually based off of the book Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Girl World by Rosalind Wisemen. In high school, I’d picked up the book, sitting unread on my mom’s desk, and couldn’t put it down. I remember gaining a set of new vocabulary for things I “knew” but couldn’t form into my own words. Concepts like the “Act Like A Man/Woman Box” helped me understand some basic theory about social and gender dynamics.

And the hilarious Mean Girls script Fey cooked up conveyed powerful lessons in feminism. The gym scene intervention where Fey addresses the high school’s female population is particularly representative of Wannabes, delivering an impactful message cleverly woven into the humor of the movie (I mean, we both know audiences wouldn’t want to know they were receiving a positive education, amirite?).

“You’ve got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” (2:40)

Later in the movie, Lindsay Lohan as Cady Heron says, “Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any smarter. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any skinnier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.”

Describing this unnamed girl as “not pretty” with an “ugly face” is of course less insulting than calling her a slut or a whore… but it’s not far off. Debasing her in front of others to lift my own status, it just further enforces the idea that it’s okay for anyone to be judged by their level of attractiveness—and makes it “okay” for women to be judged by something other than their job performance.

By treating others the way you would like to be treated, you help to circulate a superior model of communication and of life.

By cutting others down, calling other women “sluts and whores,” you’re just making it harder for yourself—and for gender equality in the long run.

Follow me on Twitter @Ginny Tonkin.

How does a shampoo commercial do badass and touching? At. the. Same. Time?

Boss v. Bossy.

Persuasive v. Pushy.

Dedicated v. Selfish.

A recent Pantene Philippines commercial matches common descriptors for men with common-held perceptions about women — showing that what’s seen as leadership for men becomes detrimental when it’s a woman.

Set against a cover of Tears for Fears “Mad World,” the ad is thoughtful and inspiring quite opposite to the way most commercials ironically belittle their most powerful consumers.

Not only did Pantene win with this empowering video, they are championing the push to end outdated stereotypes about women with their new campaign #WhipIt.

Their twitter feed is peppered with great shareable messages like this.

Cheers to Pantene Philippines for creating a campaign that’s creative and empowering. Makes us want to whip our hair back and forth. Sorry. Had to.

“Don’t let labels hold you back. Be strong and shine,” declares the video’s pre-fadeout take-home message.

See the original above or on the Pantene Philippines YouTube page.


Lean In Vietnam

Truc on a tuk-tuk.

Truc on a tuk-tuk while traveling in Cambodia.

Let me tell you about my friend Truc.

A master’s student studying hospitality in Singapore, Truc is from Vietnam. The tourism and hospitality industry is booming in the rapidly developing South East Asian country, and by studying in the influential city-state Singapore where she can fine-tune her English, Truc has more opportunities and a better chance of getting a good job when she returns to Vietnam.

Like my Chinese friend Olivia, Truc is crazy talented, and as a passionate foodie and traveler, she’s previously traveled throughout South East Asia as a travel writer, and never turns down a chance to try somewhere new.

I’ve been lucky enough to stay in touch via email and Facebook with Truc after we worked together in Ho Chi Minh City, and I was thrilled to see she’d emailed me to respond to my recent post about my Chinese friend Olivia and what she thought of the book Lean In. Many of the links are in Vietnamese, but you can figure them out if you use a Google Chrome browser with the built-in translation on.

What I’ve appreciated the most about reading and sharing Lean In are the stories and genuine exchanges shared with friends and family–all over the world. This international exchange has meant a lot to me, and if you’ve gotten something out of this story, I would love it if you could share this post with your friends on Facebook, Twitter (@GinnyTonkin), or LinkedIn.

A little piece of Truc’s brain.


Ginny oi, how are you doing? Just finished reading “What do women in China think of Facebook coo Sheryl Snadberg’s book Lean In?” Great piece of writing and lots to think about actually. It made me run straight to the keyboard, and yes had to write something to you.

I’ve read some articles recently about women in China who were trying to get married to rich old men by signing up for a “contest” in which they would be interviewed or have to perform some basic skills in housework such as ironing, washing clothes, sewing etc. So is it proving that “Most Chinese women look for money, appearance, a house and a car?” and they’ll try every way to make it become reality? Thinking about that makes me sad. Sad because that society with such a narrow mindset has pushed the women in the maze of doing what people want them to do instead of doing what they love to do, and more importantly “focusing on what’s really inside.”

I’m attaching a link (Sorry this is written in Vietnamese, no English versions) which describes the “contest,” the way young ladies in a part of China take part in the “contest,” and wait to be picked to become wives. I don’t think that’s how a marriage starts off. Are ladies just like items in the market that men can stop by, start to choose the suitable one(s), bargain and then just grab one if the deal is made?While reading all those words in your writing, more or less I’ve found a shadow of Vietnam’s society in which women in the countryside still have to follow the old path of their parents and listen to whatever they tell them to do, getting married at a very young age in particular. Here are some other links. Men from China looking for partners in Vietnam’s countryside.

But it’s not just about marriage, women should be equally treated even in their families, in the workplace and everywhere. They can be primary earners but still, have the right to receive an equal responsibilities and salaries as well. Simply they just deserve it.

Being different is not acceptable as well… in most Asian societies. At school, at work and even worse in the family, it’s hard for others to accept that you’re different, especially if you’re a girl. I mean different in your own way, different but not weird.

When all of this will end and stop negatively influencing the generation nowadays, I don’t know, but I’m giving high hopes that there are still people like you, Olivia and Sheryl (Sorry but I haven’t got a chance to read Lean In, they don’t have it here in Singapore : )) who will be able to keep inspiring people to live their life and and “find the value of love and life.” : )


What do women in China think of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In?

Meet Olivia

Meet Olivia

Let me tell you about my friend Olivia.

A young professional working in Beijing like myself, Olivia is a graphic designer. Originally from Hunan province in south-central China, she moved to Beijing for university where she went to design school and studied architecture. She is crazy talented, thoughtful, and generous. And while she does like the opportunities that living in a big city like Beijing provides, she loves the Chinese countryside, and would love to raise her eventual family in a less polluted environment.

I recently picked up a copy of Sheryl Sandberg‘s Lean In, and took it back to Beijing with me. I wanted to see what my Chinese girlfriends thought of the conversation started by Sandberg’s original TEDTalk and continued by the book, “the ways women are held back—and the way we hold ourselves back.”

I emailed her some questions about the book, she jotted answers in her notebook, and is graciously letting me share those ideas with you.

Notes in Olivia's notebook: "Equality between partners leads to happier relationships."

Notes in Olivia’s notebook: “Equality between partners leads to happier relationships.”

Overall impression

Sheryl’s a clever woman. Her words are easy to understand, and she understands others’ situations.

What had the most impact?

“It’s a jungle gym, not a ladder,” and “Make your partner a real partner.”

I know you had many favorite quotes–your favorites?

“There’s only one way to the top of the ladder, but there are many ways to the top of the jungle gym.”

“Equality between partners leads to happier relationships.” Relationships in Chinese society aren’t equal. Chinese men prefer really skinny,  small girls. They want to protect them and feel powerful.

What do you want in life?

To find the value of life–love.

What are the most important things (in life)?

Find your potential–your happiness can change the people that surround you.

Is career the most important?


What about for most Chinese women?

A husband–Chinese parents tell their daughters to find a man who can care for them (money).

Previously, you told me you were worried about finding a husband or boyfriend–you’re 26 years old. After reading books like Chinese-American former Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles Joy Chen‘s Do Not Marry Before 30, you didn’t care as much when you got married, why?

I’ve been able to meet people totally different from myself. I have an American friend, and we encourage each other. We believe to try to be yourself, and you’ll find someone naturally attracted to you, for you.

Sheryl Sandberg talks about how important finding an equal partner is, that’s what I look for in a partner, equality. Most Chinese women look for money, appearance, a house, and a car.

What advice would you give to young women?

Don’t rely on your appearance so much. Real charming women have wisdom. They have an open heart, are open minded, and have a clear mind to situations, focusing on what’s inside.

Any other comments?

Why did I get into these books? The first one I read was Do Not Marry Before 30. It was introduced to me by my friend Zeng, who lives in America. She loves me so much–we are sisters. She also cares about my marriage. And when I still don’t have a boyfriend, she gave me this book, and said this time has not come yet. Enjoy life. How you live life alone impacts your married life.


I need to thank Olivia more than just letting me interview her–she’s been one of my best friends in Beijing since I moved here in April of 2012. We’ve done language exchange together, she’s helped me do my “Mandarin Check” videos, and been a great support. She’s a wonderful person, and I know she’ll have a big impact on those around her for years to come.

Why 30 is not the new 20: #TedTalks worth watching

In our 20s we often hear, “You’re in your 20s, you’ve got plenty of time.”

I’m not saying I disagree with this statement (What do you think?). But also saw a TED Talk that objected common sentiment.

“30 is NOT the new 20.”

Meg Jay, Clinical faculty at University of Virginia and Clinical Psychologist, discusses 20-somethings in her TED Talk, “Why 30 is not the new 20.” 

I took notes, in case you don’t have time to watch her video below.

The big 3:

  1. Claim your identity capital.
  2. Use your weak links.
  3. Choose your family.

1) Identity Capital: Forget about having an identity crisis, and do something that adds value to who you are.

My two cents: I personally think everyone should grab (or make!) an opportunity to travel, and if you can, abroad. It can help shape who you are, add value to your resume, and like Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice.”

2) Use your week links: The “Urban Tribe” is overrated. If you just hang out with like-minded friends, you won’t grow, you won’t find opportunity. That’s where opportunity comes from–those weak links.

My two cents: Exactly. Many of my jobs (including my current one!) came through friends-of-friends or those “weak ties.”

3) Choose your family: “You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends,” said one of her early clients who had a poor family life growing up. She countered, well, now is the time you can choose your family. Don’t choose that boyfriend that seemed like the best thing at the time when everyone on Facebook was getting engaged.

My two cents: Have been thinking a lot about the power of a true partner, like Sheryl Sandberg describes in her book, Lean In. You will need someone who will help you think through your decisions intelligently, who will share all the house/child duties equally.

Extra notes:

  • The brain goes through its final growth spurt during your 20s. If you want to change something about yourself, do it now.
  • “She may not marry this knucklehead, but she may marry the next one.” In a story about her first client Alex, her supervisor stood up to Meg about not being tougher about figuring out Alex’s relationship issues. Your 20s are prime time for picking your family, and your future.
  • We (society) have trivialized what is the defining decade of adulthood.
  • Client told her that in her 20s, dating felt like musical chairs. In her 30s, it felt like everyone was sitting down. And that she married her husband just because he was the closest “chair.”
  • In your 30s, your “mid-life” crisis won’t be about buying a red ferrari, but about you thinking, “I can’t have the career I want.” “I can’t have the child I want.”

Check out the video below, and let me know what you think (@GinnyTonkin)!

Looking for more on making the most out of your 20s? Check out the damn good blog Art of Manliness, and the series Don’t Waste Your 20s.