My husband just dropped me off at the airport. I haven’t seen my daughter all day. My two sons put themselves to bed. At least, I think they did.
I’m leaning in, and I have no idea what I am doing. I wish I had a clearer picture, but I don’t.
Sojourners and its founder Jim Wallis wanted to invest in a group of emerging leaders – not emerging as in the emerging church but emerging as in developing, in process, growing. I am honored to be a part of this group, and from the initial invitation I have been challenged to reconsider my presence, privilege, and power. I have asked myself what a suburban wife of one, mother of three is doing in a room with national leaders in social justice, advocacy, and public policy. I am not a pastor, social justice worker, founder of anything.
But apparently those weren’t the only qualifications. I continue to wrestle with the imposter syndrome, wondering when someone will figure out I actually DON’T belong in he room.
Have you ever felt that way?
But here I am waiting for my flight to D.C. – the last flight out today so I could catch my son’s last middle school band concert and still make it in time for the morning session.
My husband, as usual, told me I had to do this. And since he hears this so rarely…
He was right. I had to do this. Sandburg’s big picture message for women is that we shouldn’t take ourselves out of the game until we have to. That means silencing self-doubt, even when it’s REALLY LOUD. It means listening to God and knowing the talents and gifts He has given us are to be stewarded and developed, not buried, ignored, diminished, or disregarded.
I’m scared. I’m intimidated. I’m confused. I’m excited. I’m open to learning, failing, and leaning in.
Is it OK to admit all of those things?
Will you still like me? Wink, wink.
Good Christians usually don’t talk about ambition. Maybe we call it “holy ambition” because if we add “holy” it makes it OK. I’ve read some of the Christian response to “Lean In”, and in a nutshell my take is that we Christians are uncomfortable with ambition. I’m afraid, however, that perhaps we have mistaken humility as the antithesis of ambition.
And as a result Christian women maybe even more uncomfortable with ambition. I’m uncomfortable talking about it with Christian women until we’ve established some level of safety. I need to know they won’t judge me. That they won’t think I don’t love my children or my husband or my gender because I am considering applying for a promotion.
Sheryl Sandberg is in your face about it.
“This book makes the case for leaning in for being ambitious in any pursuit,” p. 10 (see, still in the intro!)
Any pursuit. Hmmmm.
As Christian woman I have found it much more acceptable to be ambitious on the home front. Live for your kids and husband, perhaps in that order, because your husband isn’t around during the day and part of the evening, but that’s another chapter. Keep a clean and orderly home. Buy, make, grow, or raise the best, healthiest what-would-Jesus-eat food for your family. Be crafty and a wise steward of money. Be a godly wife and mother.
And that works well, particularly if you are married with children, and that life is something you want and you and your husband willingly agree to.
But not all of us Christian women want that. I want some of that, but I also want to work outside of my home. I enjoy teaching, preaching, speaking, and training. I love it, really. I enjoy writing, and I want to do more of it because (and I say this in a hushed voice) I think I’m good at it. I enjoy developing those skills as much as I enjoy hearing my husband unload the dishwasher (he really is doing that right now) after I’ve whipped up an amazing meal (that I didn’t do tonight).
My Christian Asian American parents helped me pay for college, and I enjoy stewarding that gift by also stewarding my gifts of leadership outside of the home. But I know that they have mixed feelings about my sister being a stay-at-home mom after getting a degree in business and about the amount of travel I choose to take on even though I have a husband.
I just don’t know if it’s OK to say that I have ambitions outside of my home. My home life ambitions have been affirmed in Church. My professional ones? Not so much.
Is it OK to tell people I have ambitions? Do you tell people you have ambitions? Would you describe yourself as ambitious?
“A 2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments.” Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In” p. 8.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to get past the introduction.
Fortunately for me, I didn’t understand the real world in high school though I was desperate to get there. High school can be/was a difficult place for those not in the “in” crowd (though not even some of the cool kids back then would be able to fit into Abercrombie’s sizing, IMHO). But I had a few teachers (and a few friends) who saw this late-bloomer for what she was – full of potential.
The speech team coach asked me to stop by after school to talk with me about my future. He told me there was no future for me if I kept trying the Dramatic Duet event, but he had an idea. He heard me give a class council speech, and he wanted me to compete. I needed a lot of help, but he saw potential. And I drank that forensics punch like it was water in a desert. Where did that get me? Scholarship money and the confidence and skills to speak in front of a crowd…and get paid to do it.
Potential worked fine in high school, but in the real world women need more than potential to get that promotion. Women need deeds done.
Apparently I start a step behind by being a woman.
And for fun I will throw down the race card. I suspect in many places I take another step back because I am an American of Asian descent. (SPOILER ALERT: Sandberg does not directly address race and ethnicity in her book.)
Having a mentor, advocate, and sponsor will help, but all of those are easier to come by if you are a man. And once a woman has managed her potential, connected with a mentor, advocate, and/or sponsor, and started accomplishing things you finally have a chance.
See?! I’m already feeling internal tension, and I’m just writing about the introduction?!?!
Because somewhere along the journey where we all, men and women, need to self-promote. How else will anyone know what you are doing, what your accomplishments are? But what do you do when you’ve been taught and told to do the exact opposite? Christians need to be humble. Asians are taught not to put yourself above others. Modern women grew up being told all sorts of things, often conflicting things about what makes you a “good” woman. Asian American women may not be valued as much as men within their own families as well as within the culture. Asian Americans are told not to stick out, stand out, brag, or boast. As a Christian Asian American woman, any combination draws a short stick.
So…what say you, fine readers? How have you experienced this in your professional life? Have you known men to be promoted on potential while you need to wait to accomplish? How have you developed your potential into accomplishments?
I’ll add more, but you go first.
Sure, they get summers “off” and if they work in the same school district as their children attend attend school they “share” vacation days. Yes, their workday “ends” with the final bell.
But I actually don’t know those teachers. I remember seeing my teachers working part-time jobs in the mall during summers. I spent more hours after school with many of my teachers than I did with my own family. And I finally figured out that those days off that I got as a student were work days for my teachers.
This week as the parent of a child in the high school, middle school and grade school, I’ve received volunteer notices for teacher appreciation events sponsored by amazing parents who are involved in the schools. My contribution will be cases of water for one of the luncheons.
But I am thankful for each one of my kids’ teachers. My hope and prayer is that each one of my kids will have teachers who make a subject become a passion or make a bad day of adolescent survival better. Not every school district or teacher gets a luncheon this week, but each of us can thank a teacher.
I am thankful for:
Miss Chioles, my kindergarten teacher at Waters Elementary School, Chicago. I remember her black hair and red nail polish, and I remember how she didn’t ignore the Asian girl who couldn’t speak English.
The librarian at Waterbury Elementary School. I’m so sorry I can’t remember your name right now. You introduced me to science fiction through Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” and took a bunch of us to Wheaton College to hear her speak. I still have my signed copy, and L’Engle’s “Two Part Invention” makes me laugh out loud.
Mr. Weinberger, my elementary/junior high school band teacher…at least I think that is his name. He didn’t see us as a bunch of kids. He saw us as musicians. And when he picked out music for solo & ensemble contests I thought he was crazy. I think I can still play part of that piece from memory.
Mr. Studt, my speech team coach at Lake Park High School. He was brutally honest with me. He told me I didn’t have a future as an actress, but I could kick butt as a orator. He taught me about pacing, using the stage, eye contact, inflections, gesturing, and research. He taught me about the power of my voice.
Mrs. Umlauf, my first journalism advisor at Lake Park High School. She handed back to me my first red-marker massacred news story assignment and eventually asked me back to lead the sports section. I was hooked. She taught me about the power of words.
Mr. Ciske, my second journalism advisor at LHS. He made producing an unappreciated high school newspaper fun, and he inspired me to peak after high school. He also taught me the value of respect by respecting me not as a student but as a journalist.
Ms. Steinbring, my photography class teacher at LHS. She made me see that a world in black and white was incredibly beautiful and worth the patience. She was also my class council advisor; she made leading fun.
Who were the teachers you appreciate(d) the most? What did they teach you?
“But knowing that things could be worse should not stop us from trying to make them better.” Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In, p. 5
“It could always be worse” has never been a salve for my soul. Knowing that someone is suffering more than I am doesn’t make me feel better. It usually makes me feel worse. The #firstworldproblems meme meant to be a bit cheeky, snarky and thoughtful (?) makes me think I spend too much time online and not enough time actually trying to change the things I can change.
There are the little things, the personal things I can change. Turn that frown upside down. Go to bed at a decent time. Walk to the library. Recycle. Reuse. Compost. Garden.
But what are the things that require a bit more heavy lifting? Sandberg’s book has gotten me thinking about leadership and the many venues in which a woman’s leadership can play out. Where do we see the problems and then choose to make the effort to make them better? Certainly women choosing to lead doesn’t just mean pregnant women get special parking (though that would’ve been great when I was pregnant with my first child), right?
In my evangelical faith circles, I have to dance this complex dance of affirming God’s will, working within cultural and organizational boundaries/rules/expectations, being encouraging as well as challenging, blessing others to make choices I would never make, asking for the blessing for choices I make that others would never make, and making sure it is all done in prayer, reflection, community, and humility. Sandberg hints at and takes some shots at complexity because she chooses to bring her gender and life stage into play, but in the end many of the solutions are appropriately business-like – cut and dry, you will either choose to lean in or not. After all of the late night conversations over tears and tissues with girlfriends and female colleagues about the challenges of leading while wearing a bra, I appreciate reading a woman’s voice telling me “we can dismantle the hurdles in ourselves today” (p. 9).
So, who are the women who are making things better? Who are the women you all look at examples of this?
I can think of several. Nikki Toyama-Szeto. Joanna Lee. Janet Cho. Jessica Lynn Gimeno. They are just some of the women I look to because they are doing more than laughing over #firstworldproblems and living out Jesus’ prayer in their spheres of influence: Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
There will be a handful of women with whom I will be able to discuss Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” in person, but it’s worth hoping I can engage a few readers of her book in this safe space of mine. I’m willing to risk the safety for what I believe is an important conversation for men and women.
The target audience no doubt is women, but as I woman I found myself having to check my own gender biases as I scribbled notes and marked up the book for future conversations and processing. I wondered about her childcare arrangements. I asked a friend if she thought Sandberg cleaned her own house. I couldn’t relate to many of her examples because I am not a senior executive in a for-profit corporation. And I found myself internally critiquing the book in a way I reserve for other female authors.
You see, I’ve read Patrick Lencioni, Tom Rath, Barry Conchie, Noel Tichy, and Marcus Buckingham. And never did I dismiss things they wrote simply because they had a nanny. In fact, I don’t even know if those men are married, have children, or hire a nanny. I’ve worked on teams where we’ve all read their books and discussed leadership development strategies without ever considering whether or not their advice is worth its weight based on their childcare arrangements. By and large, those authors write about leadership never mentioning lactation rooms, maternity leave, or “having it all” because they are men.
So why should I (or any of us) dismiss anything Sandberg has to say about leadership, self-managment or ambition because she might one day watch her children ask for their nanny instead of her? Doesn’t the fact that she includes personal illustrations about parking while pregnant give her more credibility?
Personally, I think it should. No, I do not have a nanny. But there are many times I wish I did. My kids are now all in school, but in the past I have used full-time infant daycare. Does that mean I am less of a leader at work? I have paid someone to watch and care for my child. Does that mean my experiences as a supervisor are less valuable than that of a male colleagues? I have had friends question my devotion to the children God gave me without ever questioning my husband’s devotion. Does that mean I shouldn’t write about motherhood? I have left my children at home while I travel overnight for several nights on my own, and I have listened to men and women pat Peter on the back for “babysitting” the kids “letting” me have some time away – usually time away to steward well my gifts and skills in leadership and speaking. Does that mean I am a parent, and he is a babysitter?
I’m working. And so is he. I am a parent, and so is he.
So, if you haven’t picked up the book, please put your name on the library wait-list, borrow a copy, or buy it. It’s worth the read, minus our own gender biases.
Who wants to talk more “Lean In” with me?
Trust me. The math actually works out. Peter and I have been married for 20 years. Some lessons were easier than others. Some are still in process. Some require a lifetime. I’m grateful beyond words, but this is a blog so words are required.
Here are some lessons about myself and about life through marriage learned in no particular order.
- I can be a selfish, whiny brat. Ask Peter.
- Planning a wedding is easier than loving and honoring your spouse in sickness and till death. (And I had one heck of a wedding.)
- Seek out marriage counseling early and often.
- Make new friends as a couple.
- Make new friends as individuals.
- Fall bowling leagues actually last through spring.
- I am far too practical to enjoy romance but apparently not so practical that I can’t enjoy sparkly things.
- Subwoofer/laser disc/DVD/Blu Ray is a love language for some people.
- I thought I married a mind reader. He did, too.
- Love is a verb. It is a choice. Everyday.
- I do not like “traditional” gender roles when it comes to cooking, cleaning and child rearing.
- I like “traditional” gender roles when it comes to shoveling, mowing or cutting down large trees.
- I do not like my husband associating with men who refer to parenting their own children as “babysitting”.
- I do not like associating with women who call what the fathers of their children do as “babysitting” .
- Sometimes you have to go to bed angry with each other because it’s better to go to bed with the understanding you will talk later than to argue when tired.
- Men aren’t the only ones who enjoy sex, think about sex or initiate sex.
- You really are marrying into a family, not marrying the individual.
- Children should not be the center of your marriage.
- The Church needs to talk more about healthy friendships and marriages because the world around me is still shouting louder and more effectively.
- It never hurts to say, “Thank you” and “I love you” for no other reason than you mean it.
Happy 20th anniversary to me and Peter. I am so glad I laughed through “Wayne’s World.” I am sorry it took me so long to stay awake (and then thoroughly enjoy “The Holy Grail”). I don’t think I will ever stay awake through “The Purple Rose of Cairo.”