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?
“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?
I am not supposed to be working a part-time job in retail selling miracles in a jar or a tube. I am supposed to be a campus minister/blogger developing world changers, renewing the campus, writing and editing blog posts that draw people into a deeper relationship with God, and storming the castle for Jesus.
But I am. Both. And. All.
My “real” job overseeing multiethnic ministry development and training (the corporate world might translate this into “diversity director”) with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship invites me to raise my entire salary, benefits package and overhead. I know. It sounds crazy, right? It is crazy for all right reason. Ministers of the gospel are not meant to go at it alone, which is why Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs. I go out with more than just one partner in ministry. I go out with a host of others praying for me and giving generously because they don’t want to do what I’ve been called, trained and gifted to do – train staff in cross-cultural mission, mentor leaders across the country, teach & preach at conferences, and other incredibly fun, spiritually challenging and exciting stuff.
It’s just that sometimes the math doesn’t work, and salaries are reduced. And time doing some of the things I love doing gets spent doing other things I love less but should love just as much – like raising more support, networking, inviting people to join me on this adventure.
But part of that adventure means taking the occasional detour, in part because the math isn’t working out. To help balance the books at home, I have become “Shopgirl” – selling cosmetics part-time at a nearby department store. And aside from having to stand for 4-8 hours a day with a little more makeup than I usually wear to pick-up my kids from school or when I teach about God creating culture, I’m finding that being Shopgirl and castle-stormer for Jesus has required me to be the same me in new and sometimes uncomfortable ways. And it’s really, really difficult.
I’ve learned more than I want and need to know about office politics and climbing the corporate ladder in the few short weeks I’ve been back in a “secular” workplace. I gotta tell you that being Christ-like is a lot more difficult when the gossip is juicy or when I’m just plain bored out of my mind.
It’s difficult to sell with integrity when I know that the miracle cure-all for your breakouts will cost you half as much if you buy a drugstore product with the same active ingredient, especially if you really want to believe that you get what you pay for. Telling people about Jesus is actually easier because I believe in Jesus and His miracles; I’m not so sure that my wrinkles are disappearing because of a cream I am trying out, but it sure smells nice.
It’s humbling, sometimes humiliating, when you are interviewing for a job that you know you are overqualified for (no, I don’t have any retail experience in cosmetics, but I have been wearing makeup for more than 20 years), or you are in a job that you are overqualified for but need to have and a customer treats you like you are a stupid housewife trying to keep herself busy. (I have yet to meet a housewife who doesn’t already have enough to do, have you?) I don’t really want to know “How can I help you?” I just want to go back to my “real” job where I tell people about Jesus.
See how this is hard?
It’s all part of my “real” job. It doesn’t matter if the check come from InterVarsity or that department store. It doesn’t matter if I don’t get a check at all, since my family doesn’t pay me except in hugs, kisses, and their eternal gratitude. My job is to be who God has called and created me to be in all circumstances and situations, in all the roles and responsibilities I have the privilege of having.
And this all started gelling for me this morning as I put on some of that wonder cream I get to try for free because I am Shopgirl after a great morning video conference call in preparation for some cross-cultural leadership and ministry training I will get to do later this month because I am a diversity director with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
It’s a small detour, but I think I am still on the right track.
I love nail polish. It’s a low-commitment, low-cost vanity/beauty splurge that when used properly forces me to slow down and not do a whole lot. Which is why I am typing slowly and not moving my feet right now – pink on the toes and a french mani.
And when life slows I can breathe, pray, think and reflect.
Tonight I’m thinking a lot about leadership – the privilege, the joys and the costs. In a matter of a week’s time I saw how God was using me to develop a new generation of leaders (Pacific Northwest Asian American InterVarsity students, YOU ARE AMAZING!) and how God was still buffing and shining the rough edges of my leadership. There were moments of fear and confidence, of joy and anger, of front-door leadership like “fill in the blank with a Biblical patriarch) and back-door influence (Ruth, Esther, Mary, the Samaritan woman, the bleeding woman, the servant girl, etc.).
All while rocking lavender nail polish (last week’s color), telling funny family stories about rice cookers and kimchee refrigerator, and wearing a bra, which apparently is still enough of a novelty that as I head into the final week before I speak on leadership fails at the Asian Pacific Islander Women’s Leadership Conference next week, I reminding myself of how important it is to remember God created me and knew me before I was even born as 1.75-gen Korean American Christian woman, let alone a wife, mother of three, writer, speaker, yoga junkie and nail polish addict.
Gender or ethnicity doesn’t trump my identity as a Christian, but they are integrated, enmeshed in blessed and God-ordained ways and in broken and needing Jesus’ redemption ways, because Christians are not meant to be eunuchs. Embodied. Gendered. Which for me means wearing a bra and the great option of many nail polish colors. My seasons or micro-seasons of leadership are acutely tied to my physical state – pregnant, post-partum, nursing, PMS, exhausted from the gift and plain old work of raising children, peri-menopausal, and all of that is tied to my gender. And my embodied, gendered life is also wrapped and engrained with the values and mores of my Korean ancestors with a clashing or enhancing palette from my American host. How can that not affect, change, impact, enhance, and challenge my ability to lead?
It does. It’s not all negative, and I’m not surprised…unless I meet and talk with someone who has never considered her/his leadership through their cultural/racial/gendered lens.
What lessons have you learned about leadership, your own and that of others as well as how you are perceived and how you perceive others? Need some time to think? Do your nails.
I’m actually better at talking about my lack of success than about my successes. It’s who I am – Christian Asian American woman. I was taught Christians are humble. I was raised in an Asian American home where we spoke and considered community over the individual. As a woman I learned that speaking up meant being labeled as Arrogant. Aggressive. Ambitious, other “A” words and just other words with negative connotations.
But talking about failure gets tricky. It means airing out dirty laundry. It means showing vulnerability and need and weaknesses. It means being honest and accountable.
And in my book it means being a leader.
Sometimes we are to be like the servant girl who twice calls out Peter as one of the disciples. The Apostle Peter, the Rock, denies Christ for a third time, failing to align himself and own his relationship to Jesus.
“Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” Mark 14:72 TNIV
We’ve all failed miserably, and there are many times I’ve failed and wept. Too many times I’ve wept because I got “caught” in my failure and not quite ready to deal with the consequences and learn from my failures. Finding out I’m human shouldn’t be, but too often is, unnerving.
Next month a group of incredible Asian Pacific Islander women leaders will gather in Los Angeles to learn from one another about Leadership Over the Long Haul. (Registration is still open, to both men and women, and it is going to be an amazing time. Think about it!)
And I have the privilege of speaking on leadership failures and success. Not hypothetical failures or case-study failures. My failures.
Sounds like fun, no? The trick is I have a time limit. The Lord is merciful!
What are some examples of your real-life leadership failures? What did you learn about leadership? About yourself? About God? About others?
Personally she and some of her supporters scare the bejesus out of me. Revisionist history should scare everyone. However, the strength of the Tea Party is evident in this ridiculous budget stand-off/show-down, and this morning our friend, Margaret Feinberg, contributed to The Washington Post in a roundtable that discusses the issue of Biblical submission, servant leadership, women leaders, and the changes taking place in conservative Christianity. The article looks at questions including:
How do modern evangelicals understand biblical teachings on women’s roles? (I am a sucker for this question every time.)
How would a President Bachmann balance biblical submission and political leadership?
Check out the article here: http://wapo.st/oJoR8K
I’m being interviewed tomorrow by the media team at a conference I am speaking at – New Awakening 2011, and I’m being asked about my journey as a Christian leader. I have some thoughts brewing, but I would love to hear/read your thoughts on the topic of power and submission.
We don’t always do a great job of talking about either power or submission, especially when you mix in issues of race, ethnicity, gender and faith. As a Christian Asian American woman I can’t help but bring in those angles and issues. It isn’t “just” leadership/power. It isn’t “just” submission.
It’s complicated. It’s loaded. It’s important. And there aren’t enough “safe” places to talk about the issue. If we can be gracious, perhaps this little corner of cyberspace could continue to become one of those places where we don’t have to be afraid.
So, what do you think when you read this question:
(M)any women are rising up and taking estimable positions in today’s world. In your perspective, how can Christian women balance practicing power and submission?
Wondering out loud, as an extrovert often does…is it my imagination or is the media (and perhaps the public) more concerned with:
- the fact that Jackson, who is married to Chicago Alderman/Alderwoman/Alderperson Sandi Jackson, (and both Jacksons are African American) had a personal acquaintance flown in twice for a visit, and that said acquaintance has been described as female, blue-eyed, blonde and a hostess at a D.C. restaurant;
- or renewed interest in allegations U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was hoping some fundraising prowess was going to move him up on the U.S. Senate seat replacement list;
- or that Jackson, during an on-air radio interview in Chicago Friday, said that while he was in the room when, “two Indian fund-raisers began speaking practically in Hindu and that he didn’t participate in the talk or even hear it.”
Um, if Jackson didn’t participate in the talk or even hear the talk how did he know the two Indian fund-raisers spoke in Hindu? Oh, wait. Maybe because Hindu isn’t a language, therefore Jackson couldn’t hear it? Ugh.
Actually, I wouldn’t have known about Jackson’s comment except for the fact that I read about it in this morning’s newspaper (the paper version). Until then, what I read and heard about primarily was that allegations about Jackson’s involvement in the Illinois U.S. Senate seat pay to play politics were back on and that Jackson wanted at least two private visits with his blonde, female friend who is a hostess. I heard that Jackson and his wife have dealt with this private matter and want it to stay private. Blah, blah, blah.
Yes, I have bone to pick. Several, in fact. Why does it matter that the female acquaintance is blonde and a hostess? Surely it isn’t meant at all, not even a teensy weensy bit to discredit her or make her seem “less”? It’s rather perplexing, actually. We live in a culture that worships young and beautiful (and often paler shades of beautiful) at all costs and then when you actually are young-ish and beautiful you’re the “acquaintance”. And it really matters if you are the white acquaintance of a black man (a la Tiger Woods).
But this recent scandal is almost perfect because it hits on race, ethnicity, culture, gender and religion. Jackson’s radio comment hit a nerve with me because so many conversations, as difficult as they are, are whittled down to Black and White. Hindu is not a language but a religion and a religion not limited to but connected deeply with India as well as other East, South East and South Asian cultures. Conversations about race get even more complicated when we add different voices, stereotypes, assumptions and blind spots and Jackson’s off-the-cuff comment about not hearing the conversation because the fund-raising power brokers in this case were of Indian descent and allegedly broke out in “Hindu” is a great example of that complexity.
The media would have us more ticked off that Jackson had a white female acquaintance than the fact that he, a U.S. Congressman representing a diverse population, made a rather ignorant statement about his understanding of diversity and culture.
At some point the media will talk with the female acquaintance and we will see more unnecessary photos of said woman in various stages of dress and less-dressed. In some circles of politically involved Evangelicals, there will be conversations about leadership and integrity and marriage all sorts of important “values”. And I will put money on at least a handful of us women talking about the gender issues in this story…but will we – politically involved or invested Evangelicals, men and women, of all races and ethnicities, dare embrace the complexity and messiness of integrating issues of race, ethnicity and religion into our conversations. After all, Jackson knew how to talk woman and blonde (and dare I say presumably white) but he couldn’t hear Hindu. Maybe he didn’t want to see it either and I terribly afraid so many of us out here don’t either.