Book Club: Lean In & the Dirty “A” Word


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? 


  1. LL May 11, 2013

    I struggle with this too, but I’ve come to decide that it is okay to have ambition. Maybe we need a new word because this A word is so tainted for us.

    In my all girls high school, we had a framed cross stitch that said, “Don’t tell your daughter to marry a doctor or lawyer, tell her to be one.” I was 100% raised to lead and be ambitious. It was the church and ministry that confused me on this point in my 20s, which is ridiculous because it came to a point where I thought, if I had any other job, I would not be satisfied with where I am. It would be ridiculous for all the investment that my parents and my educators made in me to just settle because it was ministry and I felt the pressure to be content. It’s still a muddled mess for me, but I’m becoming more comfortable with ambition and also with figuring out the language so that ambition is heard well. Part of what made me crawl away from ambition at my job was the way certain people looked when they talked about it. It was not attractive to me at all.

    Thanks for writing this.

  2. Hillary L May 11, 2013

    Thanks for your posts, Kathy. I’m enjoying them. Thanks for creating a safe space to discuss.

    With Ms. Sandberg, I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to get to where I am vocationally, and with you, I recognize my place as one of tremendous privilege. In my best moments of humility (a right understanding of myself in my situation – gifts/experiences/weaknesses, etc), stepping forward/following through/leaning in has not felt ambitious but rather simply the right thing to do. And I can tell because it has felt like striving after right things, and not the wind.

    Thus, I am ambitious (I have goals, mentors, a 3-5 year plan), but I hope those things always fit within a “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” framework. At least in the academe, prestige and power can easily become false gods for women and men. Ms. Sandberg has not convinced me to pursue actions that lead to moving us around the country, though I’m only in Ch 3.

    I expect that the people around me may not actually know what to think of me (ambitious or otherwise). My husband reminds me that I rarely talk about being a physician-researcher; naming my fields of palliative medicine and geriatrics are conversation stoppers without talking about research goals. I appreciate LL’s comments above and Sandberg’s quote: “I was raised to believe that girls could do anything boys could do and that all career paths were open to me.” p. 14 – because while this was absolutely my upbringing and a core belief, it’s a different message than what I hear from my church, an imperfect place that I choose to be and serve for different reasons.

  3. Perks May 13, 2013

    struggled with the same thing… I’m learning to be okay with being ambitious beyond domestic setting in a good christian woman perspective haha. I haven’t stlll quite figured that out how that looks like. But.. it’s really part of who I am. It’s not selfish ambition… I am ambitious because I want to inspire.. and live for others… somehow make a change in the world I live in.
    but thanks for the share! Christian women can relate to this sooo much.

  4. Jaime June 12, 2013

    Growing up in a world where all the girls around me dream of being “Proverbs 3” wives and mothers, it’s never felt like a good thing to talk about my ambitions. I’ve always assumed that I’ll be judged for wanting to have a successful career–for pushing myself to excel and achieve my goals–simply because a house full of children and a soccer mom mini van don’t come first on that list of dreams. I work hard, and I’m willing to take charge, but deep down, I struggle with feeling ashamed of those qualities. It’s unspoken or subtle usually, but the message gets across that young women like me are not “sensitive” enough, or “submissive” enough, or even just plain “sweet” enough.

    I’ve read part of Sandberg’s book and already it has empowered me by opening my eyes to the fact that I can have that strong personality, I can be successful, and I can still be a woman. Not some aggressive and angry woman trying to act like or become a man–a genuine, strong, and godly woman.

    And as I make my way through those subtle and often unspoken stereotypes that Christian women deal with, I believe that I am not a mistake. God has great plans for me and my ambitions. He didn’t give me the desires and talents that I have just to say, “Oh right, about that… my bad…”

    I think ambition is a good thing. No, it’s a *great* thing, and it most certainly is not something to be ashamed of.

    • Jaime June 12, 2013

      Proverbs 31 **

    • Kathy Khang June 13, 2013

      Welcome to the conversation!

      Yes!!! You can be strong, successful, and female! I was just talking about this particular point with the women in one of my book clubs. We all agreed that we have seen women who, by virtue of making it in a man’s world, have both paved a way for us as well as lost a part of themselves. There is a cost to trailblazing and finding new ways. May we have the courage to continue.


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