I’m just as guilty as anyone else of reaching over my pile full of constructive, smart, aspirational nonfiction books to the novel I really want to read (again).
But I couldn’t put down Tiffany Dufu’s “Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less.“
“Drop the Ball” is the true story of how Dufu, who is chief leadership officer at Levo and was a launch team member to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, figured out how to manage the conflicting demands of work, parenthood, and her marriage — by letting some of it go.
Normally (confession time!) I have a hard time finishing nonfiction and self-improvement books. I generally put them down one day and they just fade away. But with “Drop the Ball,” I wanted to see what happened. How did Dufu, who spent her whole life earning A’s, and honours, and promotions, and generally giving everything her all, keep things from falling apart while raising two children as she worked and her husband travelled extensively for business? Which balls did she drop?
If you can’t identify with this challenge, look to the concept of the “mental load.” It refers to the mental checklist needed to run a household, one traditionally kept by women. Low on toothpaste. Must get cash to pay the lawn-mowers by tomorrow. Rain boots no longer fit toddler. Car inspection is about to expire. And so on. (For more on that, check out the illustrated version of this concept, “You Should have Asked.”)
If she doesn’t remember it, it won’t get done. Or will it?
The book is packed with relatable, too-close-to-home lessons for overachievers of any ilk — whether at home, or at work. At work, it’s called delegating, and it’s not a remotely new concept. If you’re overseeing a team, you trust others to do what they do best, and you don’t do every little thing yourself. That’s why you have a team! Ever since finishing “Drop the Ball,” I can’t stop thinking of its takeaways at work. If something isn’t done exactly the way I would have done it myself, can it be enough? Actually, can it be better than how I would have done it?
Sociologist and UC Berkeley professor Arlie Hochschild called the struggle of balancing work at the office, running a household, and caring for children the “second shift,” in her 1989 book of the same name. Hochschild wrote that paid work, child care, and housework are three separate jobs, and that historically, in a heterosexual household with kids, women take on two of the three. As Lisa Wade, an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College, put it in a 2016 article for Money, the second shift is “the work that greets us when we come home from work.”
But Dufu tells us that while someone has to do it, it doesn’t have to be you, and it doesn’t have to be the way you’ve always done it.
One unforgettable anecdote from Dufu’s story has stuck with me as the pinnacle of dropping the ball: the dry cleaning.
When she asks her husband to be responsible for picking the dry cleaning, she’s worried it won’t get done. Usually, she picks it up before work, but she notices that he doesn’t. That’s OK, she reassures herself. There’s a whole day ahead. When she comes home from work, she notices the dry cleaning isn’t in the closet. As the dry cleaner approaches its closing time of 8 p.m. and she starts getting anxious that he forgot, she hears the doorbell ring, and rushes over, assuming he’ll be outside, hands full of dry cleaning and unable to open the door. But it’s not her husband. It’s her dry cleaner, delivering the dry cleaning.
“Your husband asked me to deliver,” he told her.
“Martin, I’ve been bringing my clothes to you for nearly two years now. How come you never told me you guys deliver?”
“You never asked.”
I can’t stop thinking about that — how something she worried her husband couldn’t or wouldn’t handle turned out better than the way she did it herself. What else could others, whether partners at home or teammates at work, do better than we could, if we just give them the chance to do it?
While Dufu’s book is about a high-achieving woman and probably resonates most with others in the same position, it’s not only for women. It’s for anyone used to being top of the class, to juggling every ball without letting one drop, to being put-together at all times. It’s also for anyone who loves, or who shares a household with, that person.
I’ve recommended it to friends, to coworkers, to acquaintances. As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t anyone who shouldn’t read “Drop the Ball.”
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