Short Answers From Tiffany Dufu
If you read nothing else in 2017, do yourself a favor and read Drop The Ball. Not because it’s being heralded as the next Lean In. Or because Sheryl Sandberg’s a huge fan. Or because author Tiffany Dufu is the most inspiring woman we’ve ever met.
Do it because it’s going to change your life FULL STOP.
Let us explain. Tiffany’s definition of “Drop The Ball” is this: to release unrealistic explanations of doing it all and engage others to achieve what matters most to us, deepening our relationships and enriching our lives.
And she’s not just spewing bullshit — she had an epic meltdown on her first day of work after maternity leave that spurred big changes in her own life. She told us,
“I was so excited. I handed my son off to a caregiver, confident I would be able to do it all. The whole illusion lasted 6 hours. I forgot to pump because I was going from meeting to meeting, and my breasts literally exploded through my blouse and blazer. As I kneeled in a bathroom stall and emptied my breasts into a toilet, tears were streaming down my face. My vision of a future in which I gracefully managed both career and home had been obliterated.”
The book is both a memoir and a manifesto. It opens with a detailed version of the aforementioned breakdown, then goes on to pull back the curtain on how she actually managed to shift their family dynamic, so she and her husband share household duties equally. It’s full of easy-to-implement steps that will allow you to 1.) not do it all 2.) be totally okay with that. 3.) get your partner on board.
Meet the articulate, charming, real, funny, super-smart, crazy ambitious, and humble as pie: Tiffany Dufu.
I wrote the book for women who lead complex lives and have high expectations of themselves. It’s about embracing imperfection and letting go, so you can flourish in work and in life. I care deeply about women in leadership and want there to be more of them.
On The Book’s Instant Success
If Sheryl Sandberg’s endorsement in this space means Drop the Ball will fly and more women will have access to my message, then I’m over the moon!
I did a lot of public speaking as Chief Leadership Officer of Levo in 2013. I would stand on stages and suggest things like equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare, and job flexibility as a means for more women to become CEOs, entrepreneurs, and leaders.
When it came time for the Q&A, someone, without fail, would say, ‘You mentioned your daughter, son, and husband. And you said your husband is in Dubai, you’re here with us in San Francisco, and tomorrow you’ll be in NYC. You have on amazing shoes, look happy and healthy, and you have this career so focused on your passion. How in the world do you do all of this?!’
Everyone in the audience would clap. I got it so often, I came up with a one liner response: ‘I just expect far less from myself and far more from my husband than the average woman.’ And that always got a chuckle.
One day I stepped back from the podium and realized that if my life’s work is advancing women and girls, then I owe it to women to give them a better answer than a cheeky one liner.
My mentor Marie Wilson — who built the Ms. Foundation for Women and started Take Our Daughters To Work Day and The White House Project — would always say to me, ‘If you want to create real change in the world, you’re going to have to meet people where they are, not expect them to come to where you are.’
I finally realized what she meant: I had been going from city to city imposing my ambition on women to launch their own business and become CEOs. What they really wanted to know was how to get everyone out the door with the right backpack and the right lunch on time. I had been missing an important piece of the puzzle. Once I had the epiphany, it became so clear that a woman’s ambition in the public sphere is directly correlated to the amount of responsibility she has at home. If you have too much on your plate at home, you’re not going to want to take on more at work. I had to help them get control of their lives on a logistical basis.
The Wheels Fell Off
A book was a scalable way to reach as many women as possible. I had to take women back in time because they were all seeing the new-and-improved Tiffany. I used to be the one at conferences wondering how others were managing to do it all. It took me almost 3 years to figure out a solution for myself. I had to tell my dirty feminist secret: For most of my career, while I advocated publicly for nontraditional roles in the workplace, I was on Stepford Wife autopilot in my personal life. I assumed general traditional gender roles in my home and never questioned it until I couldn’t keep it up and had a total breakdown.
Over time, we developed MEL (management excel list) — it’s like a third person in our marriage. The first column lists everything required to manage our home (from cleaning out the fridge to washing the car to dealing with mail and paying bills). The next column has my husband’s name at the top, the following has mine, now my kids each have their own column, then the most important is the “no one” column. We go through every few months and assign tasks. Since I’m currently on the book tour and not physically there, I’m handling things that can be done online, while my husband is getting the kids out of bed and attending our daughter’s piano recital.
The first time we did this exercise, we realized that even with 2 adults working at full capacity, it’s literally impossible to get it all done. So we mutually agreed to put things that won’t get done in the “no one” column. If someone asks if they can help, we always have a task for them! Our village can so easily support and help us this way, and they do.
I believe that my children chose me to be their mom. I don’t know why they picked me, but I feel my role is largely to help them achieve clarity through guidance and encouragement. I’m hands off for the most part — the opposite of a tiger mom. My best use is engaging them in meaningful conversation every day. If I had children who had disabilities or needed more from me, I would operate differently. But if they needed that, they would not have picked me as their mom.
Spend 80% of your time being the type of person you want your kids to be and the other 20% making sure they get into a good school and all that good stuff.
I’ve been married for 19 years, and my best piece of advice is this: Make sure you maintain the friendship. After a while, people start getting a little chubby around the middle, and you’re both tired at the end of the day. Friendship keeps you fresh, laughing, and committed to one another.
For me, it’s not a moment, it’s the experience of being the cumulative investment of a lot of amazing women who have mentored and sponsored me, making it possible for me to be the leader that I am. I don’t know what I did to be so blessed, but to have Gloria Steinem write the foreward and Sheryl Sandberg be such a big supporter of my first book — I am so humbled and blown away by the people who have invested in me and my career. I feel a responsibility to deliver for them and make them proud.
I ran a nonprofit called the White House Project, which trained women to run for public office, for 2 years. I had to close it, which was heartbreaking. Everything happens for a reason, but it was the toughest thing for me because it felt like the biggest public failure. It is difficult raising money and keeping a nonprofit going.
I love women who are being bold through their artistry and are not only embracing themselves, but also putting themselves on the table and saying ‘this is me’ without an ounce of apology. I’m still obsessed with Beyonce’s Lemonade, though I have sorta moved onto Solange, and I’m loving Alicia Keyes’ new album. I listen to them all constantly on a loop.
If you ever want to treat me, send me Lush bath bombs.
I look up to my own mom, who found out she was pregnant with me at 19 and lived in Watts in Los Angeles. My dad was 1 of 11 kids born in a housing project. My mom had an uncle who was an army recruiter, and he convinced my dad to go into the army. I was born on an army base in Washington, and my parents broke the cycle of poverty, addiction, and violence in one generation. My mom used to tell me every day, ‘You are so smart. You are so loved. You are so beautiful.’ At 13, I was so embarrassed by that, but it was the greatest gift. I hear her words in my ear now when I’m nervous walking onto a stage.
Relax & Unwind
I do a lot of dancing. I used to dance a LOT as a kid in my room with the music blaring, and I never stopped doing it! My kids got me a Beats headset because they said it was too loud, so now I put that on and do it every single day! In my head, I’m in a music video.
Originally published at news.rocketsofawesome.com on March 8, 2017.