Me, Ambitions, Q & What Happens When You Get What You Secretly Hope For

When I was in high school I wanted to grow up and be a journalist. I wanted to write for a major metropolitan market daily and be a section editor by the time I was 30 years old, to be precise.

I imagined what life would be like, considered the possibilities, didn’t rule out marriage or children but tried not to worry about it too much. I did the internships, collected the clips & recommendations, and utilized the career center like a boss. I was disappointed at the rejection letters, and then I started collecting them & correcting them for errors. I posted the rejections and numbered them. My apartment-mates agreed with me that editors who misspelled words on rejection letters weren’t worth working for, and those same apartment-mates greeted me at the airport celebrating what would be the first of two job offers.

And in all that time I never doubted my ambitions were part of my faith journey. Following Jesus meant dreaming, trying, failing, dreaming some more, and stewarding the gifts and talents I knew I had. There was always doubt, but there was always faith. I also knew that my ambitions were never completely my own. My parents and I immigrated to the US when I was eight months old. My life as the child of recent immigrants would never be “my own”, and I understood that before I understood what giving my life to Jesus meant. Sacrificial living is part of my Asian American DNA.

But somewhere between the age of 21 and 43 the doubts went deeper. Was being ambitious selfish? Could a faithful Christian woman still claim ambitions? How could I reconcile surrendering my life to Jesus and pursue my ambitions? The books I have read on leadership, discipleship, and parenting have all mentioned goals and achievement, but for some reason it began to feel less safe, less feminine, less godly like Mary and more like Martha to be ambitious.

Somewhere along the way my voice changed, and somewhere along the way I recognized the difference….and I didn’t like it. But to find your voice can be dangerous because you have to choose things and take risks and speak. Sometimes it has been clear as day; some opportunities were a “no” without a doubt.

But some opportunities are the ones we secretly hope for. Some opportunities are the ones I secretly hope for. The hopes are secret because who in their right mind tells anyone, “I’d love to be the speaker at a conference”? I don’t. Well, actually I do. Indirectly. I have a page on this blog with testimonials, my schedule, and my contact information. I’ve been told I should have a speaker request form plug-in. I’ve secretly wanted to speak at conferences, churches, and retreats.

A secret ambition becomes reality next month. I’ll be one of 12 presenters at Q Women & Calling next month in NYC. Well, how was that for burying my lede?

I’ve been waiting to write about it because:

  1. I got caught up in writing about Asian American stereotypes and evangelicals;
  2. Elias, Corban and then Bethany all took turns coming home with different germs;
  3. my day job keeps me busy; and
  4. I am terrified. And that’s OK.

I’ll be speaking on ambition with a voice that I pray is mine, embodying my Asian American Christian woman/friend/wife/mother/daughter/sister/neighbor thing. So as I finish prepping, fretting, and prepping some more (18 minutes is not a lot of time for a woman who grew up in a Korean American church) I would appreciate hearing from you.

What, if anything, is wrong with ambition?

How can Christian faith and ambition co-exist? Or can it not?

What are your secret ambitions? What keeps you from pursuing them?


  1. HapaMamaGrace October 29, 2013

    Ugh. WordPress didn’t save my comments the first time, so I’ll try to recap what I wrote.

    I really like this discussion and thank you for bringing it up. I have long struggled with my ambitions, my faith and my practical responsibilities. When I graduated from college, many of my friends went into ministry or worked in non-profits. I internalized this message that having career ambitions was too “worldly” or “selfish”.

    When I quit my job in my early 30s to raise kids full-time, it felt like the higher road, although my immigrant parents weren’t happy with the choice. I think this is a dilemma that’s very specific to Asian Christians, as I’ve heard many other friends express similar tensions.

    As I start working more, I feel like I am finally feeling comfortable with my ambitions, and can view them as part of who I am and what I have to contribute to the world. Now my struggle is more in balancing my passions with the practical realities of life.

  2. Melody Harrison Hanson October 29, 2013

    Oh my where to start. I quit ministry to be full time mom and felt like I “sacrificed” ambition for it, never felt at peace about it, but God used it to humble me and bring me to a new awareness of grace and the long spiritual journey though painful had been liberating. It’s so complicated. My heart frets all the time about the choices I’ve made and fear overwhelms all the time. Now more than a decade later I believe it’s impossible to get back into the workplace because of all that I missed in the last 12 years. The ambition is still there, unhappily fearful.

  3. RuthG October 29, 2013

    Lately I’ve had to learn about narcissism as a disorder & a sin; ambition can be tangled up in that, which is scary. But ambition in itself isn’t bad at all–it can be a healthy vision for our life. Many of us women have deferred our own dreams for the sake of family, or set them aside to try to follow Christ more faithfully. Sometimes we’ve been afraid of wielding the power that we might have if we achieved our ambitions/dreams. It’s very hard to sort out, especially because following Christ by serving the church & serving the poor can ALSO get tangled up with ambition.

    We shouldn’t be afraid of living large lives–but we also need to be content with SMALL lives. That’s a conundrum that I periodically have to revisit.

  4. Helen Lee October 29, 2013

    I am one of these weird people who either has no ambition or wildly unrealistic ambitions (Oscar for Best Original Screenplay!) so clearly I must have some weird pathology or family-of-origin issues going on. =) Anyway, I haven’t read Andy Crouch’s new book yet, but I have heard him talk about the fact that we often think of power in a negative light (as in, don’t be one of those “power hungry” people). But power can be thought of as a good gift, if we are motivated to use it correctly. I think that ambition is a desire for greater power, and that is not necessarily a bad thing if you are desiring more power to do greater good in the world, to have greater influence for the furthering of God’s kingdom. Now of course it can get messy when our motivations become tainted with a desire to bring ourselves more glory, and I think that is always a tension that that we have to prayerfully walk. But I think it’s AWESOME that you have been given this opportunity, and my prayer is that God will use you mightily in those 18 minutes, that he would give you great power to reach and touch the hearts, minds, and souls of those who get to hear you, for his glory.

    As for why I haven’t pursued that secret Oscar-winning ambition yet…ah well, I keep saying someday I will write that darn screenplay! I’m sure there is some underlying fear, an “I can’t do this? What makes me think I can do this?” going on. But mostly, I just haven’t been able to make the time for it. Although somehow I found time to partner with you to do that whole open letter thing. =) Analyze me!

    Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

    • Kathy Khang November 4, 2013

      Helen, we are both a little weird. And if you factor in that Open Letter thing, we added a crowd of people who are scratching their heads trying to figure out what made us do what we did and how did it catch the way it did…and how did we have time?

      But I think that is where those underlying ambitions, passions and capacity come together. When that moment or decision comes it doesn’t even seem like much of a decision. We simply had to act. Despite the fact that we have both been accused of acting out of selfish gain, I’m still puzzled at that. Where is the gain? If I look at it purely from the perspective of a parent and wife, it was nothing but loss.

      I suspect the issue at heart isn’t ambition. It’s fear and power, both things as women we are not given much vocabulary or space to engage and explore. And in the church, we give ample room for men to explore power, maybe not fear, and to pursue ambitions – to have both career and family – without questioning faithfulness or humility. I have Andy’s book closer to the top of my to-read pile.

      My reading list is ambitious, unrealistically so I am afraid.

  5. catherine November 1, 2013

    Hi, what a great topic! The short of it of course is that ambition is a beautiful aspect of being human – aspiring, dreaming and having a vision to achieve or build what isnt yet. How great! It must be God given. But like all things in this world is broken it needs to yield to Christ and probably the best version of ambition is contextualized in His love.

    For myself my concepts of ambition and success has been all twisted up – I mean its so confusing being a woman in the modern days.
    Feminism proved that we can do almost everything career wise. Its just that the fall out has shown us that we cant have everything in full – work and family at the same time in its fullest is a challenge to obtain.

    I think the most important question for me in my path has been what drives my ambitions? Ambition can be mixed up with a question of my ability. It can be driven by self esteem and self concept issues. It can be fueled by a desire to be loved or gain approval. In those cases I often need to reorder my heart. Sometimes my path too.

    I feel like its even harder when youre in a high pressure or competitive work field like say medicine or even part of an affluent mom social circle, ambition can become blind. There is always the next level to attain. Another fellowship. Another school for your child to apply to. ( I mean getting into kindergarten is tough in NYC and some kids have drivers drop them off) And that is when your ambition eats you alive., you will put all things aside at all costs and lose yourself. I mean did those men building that tower remember even why they were building it? What were they gonna do once they go there?

    It also helps to remember my mortality and my ambitions are like a speck of sand and there is no enjoyment of our work our ambitions without Him. Like ecclesiastes 2:24 says there is nothing better to eat drink and tell himself his labor is good. …Who can eat and have enjoyment without Him?

    Anyways what a delicious and rich topic you have chosen. Best on your talks. Be blessed.

    • Kathy Khang November 4, 2013

      Thank you for your thoughtful response! I agree. Ambition and success can all go awry rather quickly, but I do think, in my gut, Christian women have been too quick to brush off ambition as being ungodly or unfeminine.

      And your comment on the tower…that about put me in the floor laughing. It is so true, and I think that is the kind of selfish ambition we are so afraid of.

      Peace to you!

  6. […] Kathy Khang, […]


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