Leaning into the new academic year

Book cover of Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg

Do you use the expression “lean in[to] [something]”? Do you know what it means? I have noticed this expression become more common in English over the past few years. I find this intriguing since the creation of a new phrasal / prepositional verb is not so common.

“Lean In” is the title of feminist icon and Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s self-empowerment book, published in 2015, which caused a sensation, though her message has since lost some of its gloss. Sandberg did not invent the expression but she certainly helped to popularise it. What precisely does it mean?

Merriam-Webster has a Words We’re Watching: ‘Lean in’ page, where they discusss the origin and meaning of the expression. They consider it an interesting neologism but not yet sufficiently consolidated to merit an entry in the main dictionary. (That begs the question, How much evidence do they need?)

Here are some examples of current webpage titles for content that includes the expression “leaning into it”:

  • Finding Your Podcasting Style And Leaning Into It
  • Leaning Into Discomfort for Growth
  • How Leaning Into Your Anxiety Can Help You Manage It
  • Trump acts like he knows he’s losing — and he’s leaning into it (October 2020)
  • Lean into it! Turn struggling into your best friend

In my own words, I infer that this expression means facing up to something difficult or unpleasant and turning it to your advantage. With this in mind, I am calling your attention to this expression at the end of the holiday period, as we face up to a challenging new academic year.

Numerous “lean in” messages of encouragement have appeared in Welcome back! letters at the start of the school year, particularly in the USA:

At the start of the academic year, we wish all Tradiling readers interesting challenges over the coming months, with plenty of useful “leaning in”!

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