Lesson 18: Sheryl Sandberg; Can A Speech Teach Ambition?

Ken Auletta’s profile of Sheryl Sandberg in The New Yorker is an excellent companion to Sandberg’s TED speech of last December. The latter was passed like a Dead bootleg among a certain group of women who had made a certain set of choices in their lives, perhaps not unlike the way Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest recipe might be passed among another set of women who had made another set of choices. The message and the language in Sandberg’s talk married something women want with the confidence of having achieved it. The performance of the speech made its content doubly impressive.


Sandberg proposes something for the next generation: a set of steps to success, what b-school professors would call An Action Plan. She uses the tools of an economist (data), plus those of a life coach (inspiration), but then marries these things with the rhetoric of history’s finest feminists. In her talks, benign words like “leadership,” “ambition” and “achievement” are defused of their traditionally tricky politics. She does this with charm and humor, as opposed to the more traditional tool, self-deprecation.

In her Barnard Commencement speech, Sandberg told the graduates:

So, what advice can I give you to help you achieve this goal?  The first thing is I encourage you to think big.  Studies show very clearly that in our country, in the college-educated part of the population, men are more ambitious than women.  They’re more ambitious the day they graduate from college; they remain more ambitious every step along their career path.  We will never close the achievement gap until we close the ambition gap.  But if all young women start to lean in, we can close the ambition gap right here, right now, if every single one of you leans in.  Leadership belongs to those who take it.  Leadership starts with you.

“Leadership starts with you,” a platitude in other contexts, feels original here, because we want it to be newly true for those girls. And the strategies for achieving leadership? “Sit at the table.” “Make your partner a real partner.” Said another way: Know the difference between deference at work and deference at home. Your boss is not your husband.

Sandberg also advises young women: “don’t leave before you leave.” For some, “leaving before you leave” is simply a convenient way out of a bad job. For others, it’s a self-destructive play at the illusion of optionality, something easy to NPV in the abstract but almost impossible to monetize in reality.

Sandberg’s rules are not only applicable to women dreaming of IPOs alongside applesauce cups. Hers are rules for all women, because all women deserve to believe in themselves. Yet an eloquent Action Plan for ambition is not enough. There must be confidence, too. Where does Sandberg get her confidence? Can we learn that,too? Because that's what we want most to teach our daughters. Somewhere between Austen and Sandberg, does the perfect speech for teaching confidence exist? 

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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