Why I Gave My Kid's Fidget Spinner to Sheryl Sandberg

Written by:

Katie Mehnert

Several years ago when I was working at Shell, I was in our London office.  The CEO at the time was riding up in an elevator full of employees.  I had no idea Jeroen van der Veer was our chairman and CEO.  I just knew that he was about to trip on something so I decided to do what we were expected to do: intervene.

Yes, I intervened on a senior executive.  

And the entire elevator thought I was crazy.  "Did you know that's THE chairman of the company," quipped a British colleague sporting his best bowtie and suit.  I quipped back rather quickly with "The C-suite put their underwear on the same way everyone does -- one leg at a time."  My point to him was it didn't matter to me that he was the CEO, it mattered to me he was a colleague and I didn't want to see him harmed.

C-suites are powerful, but they are human.  And they want the same things we all crave: security, love, belonging, and safety.

And then a few weeks ago, my six year old daughter Ally and I were talking about other power figures: superheroes.

From Ninja Turtles to Wonder Woman to Rocky Balboa, my kid has taken to confidence characters. (And that has me super proud).  I told Ally I was getting the opportunity to connect with one of my superheroes, Sheryl Sandberg. Sheryl has always had a way of expressing herself that makes me feel like I am in her inner circle.  She's inclusive, caring, influential, and very down to earth. She's open, authentic and puts herself out there. She writes what's in my head, often so she's one of my superheroes.

Ally handed me something.  

She told me that every superhero needs a fidget spinner.  Fidget spinners help build strength and remove fear.  Ally told me I was her superhero and that the spinner would be something I could give to mine.  I melted... but ...

Thoughts raced in my mind and I fidgeted!  

"Who brings a fidget spinner to dinner with a billionaire?"

As I made my way with 74 other amazing women and men who were there to "lean in" and meet with Sheryl and her team, I could only think, "I know no one but I have my kid's red spinner and its destination is Sheryl Sandberg's hands. " I thought about it on the plane, during workshops and then one night in the car, with some fellow leaders decided to share with them my kid's wish.

"You've got to do it, Katie," they resounded.  "You can't let her (Ally or Sheryl) down."

Sheryl doesn't teach weak and neither does Ally, so why was I stuck?

It's human. We fear putting ourselves out there and getting rejected or laughed at.  Like the guys in the elevator with the CEO, we worry what the chief will think or say.

But when we live our values, we're set free.

When we remove the barriers we put around something or someone, and we are human, beautiful things happen.

My entire life I've been an extrovert, easy to make friends, unafraid to meet people, connect with audiences, speak, put myself out there, throw parties, and it came down to this moment.  Would I? Could I?

I was nervous.  The pile of nicely wrapped gifts were sitting behind Sheryl on a table and I fidgeted even more.  My gal pals were behind me with wine glasses nudging me along, insisting I let that $3.00 spinner go.  

And then it happened.  

I did what I used to do when I was Ally's age.  I counted 1-2-3 and jumped into my fear.

I gave Sheryl Ally's red spinner. She beamed with joy and hugged me.  She immediately grabbed a book and signed it. It was very touching, real and human. She reminded me of that moment in the elevator years ago when everyone was afraid and I wasn't.

I was reminded that we all need to feel safe, secure, loved, and included.  I was reminded that small is more impactful than big and that meaning is everything. It was amazing to be among so many people who are driving meaning every day in their part of the world, leaning in and changing the world to be a better place for women and girls like Ally.

So, my one take away from this amazing weekend gets back to something Sheryl asks of us.  

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Go do it.  Seize the day.  Life is too short to sweat fear.  If you don't have a circle of support around you, connect with me and join our Lean In Energy chapter and you can get a fidget spinner too.

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