8:06 PM (14 hours ago)
A former Navy reservist killed 12 and then turned the gun on himself yesterday, so why on earth am I still blogging about racist comments directed at Miss America 2013 Nina Davuluri?
Because even things that don’t seem to matter can give me an opportunity to pause, learn, reflect, and apply to life. And everything I learned about beauty pageants I learned from the Bible before I watched my first Miss America pageant.
Felt-board Queen Esther became queen because her predecessor, Queen Vashti, refused her very drunk husband’s order to display her beauty to all the people, despite the fact that she was busy doing her own thing (Esther 1:11). King Xerxes and his wingmen/wise men decide she must be punished because if the queen can refuse to prance around in front of his drunk highness and his drunk friends then all women in the kingdom would assume they too could refuse their drunk husband’s requests. In order to put all women back in their place, a proclamation announcing the queen would be replaced and that every man should be ruler over his household (Esther 1:22) is sent to the entire kingdom “to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language”.
Esther becomes queen because she is beautiful and because she keeps her family background and nationality a secret. I don’t know what the Persian beauty standards were at the time, but Esther isn’t Persian. She is Jewish, and she hides it. And because she is beautiful she is rewarded. Sort of.
She wasn’t crowned Miss America. Miss America gets scholarship money, a national platform for a year for the cause of her choice, and the support and scorn of a country that worships and destroys all forms of beauty. Esther was crowned queen in title with no power, no platform. Would it be too crude to say she was a sex slave who was called into the king’s presence whenever it pleased him to see her? Or should I write “see” her? The kind had a type – beautiful virgins – and he liked to keep several around and name one queen. One day it’s Vashti, and then the next it’s Esther. It’s a man’s world, and it’s rolling with beautiful women.
And that was part of the lesson I learned growing up – Queen Esther and Queen Vashti were beautiful, and there is a great deal of power and danger in that. You are set apart if you are beautiful. You are desirable if you are beautiful. And sometimes you have to hide who you really are to be considered beautiful. And then I learned all of that from the world around me, except that there were too many things I couldn’t hide. I couldn’t hide my “almond eyes” or flat nose. I couldn’t hide my un-American last name or the smells from my home. I couldn’t hide my brown hair and brown eyes. And as a little girl I played with dolls and watched beauty pageants – faces that never, ever looked like me or my mother or sister or aunt or anyone in my family. I was a chink and a gook and a jap. I was told to back to China, Japan, Viet Nam, but never Korea because most of my classmates had not yet learned of the Korean conflict. Even in high school I heard those words coupled with other profanity and saw words written on posters when I ran for class president. Some things you never forget because it’s important to remember. Kids are kids, but kids grow up to be adults to are examples to others…
Fortunately God does a lot of redeeming in my story and in Esther’s story. For Esther to find real power in her God-given identity she has to claim what she has hidden and denied. Her uncle, who once told her to hide her identity as a Jew asks Esther to use whatever power and access she has to speak out for her people, to speak out for what is right. Her uncle never says he was wrong, but he is asking to behave differently. She has to side with her people who are under threat of genocide, by defying the rules. She must risk death by approaching the king without being invited and hope he welcomes her, recognizes her (because it’s been more than a month since the king has seen this particular queen). She finds her voice, her identity, her power, and she speaks out against genocide, against the racist hate mongering, and she does it with strength and conviction and grace.
I’m still writing about the racist comments that may have disappeared in the constant flow of tweets, FB statuses and 24-7 news outlets because the Miss America pageant, as outdated, bizarre and sexist as it seems, the idea is as old as time. It’s as irrelevant and sexist as it relevant and sexist, which is to say I have no idea how God might redeem the Miss America pageant, but it’s not beyond God to do such a crazy thing. I’m not particularly fond of nor a fan of the pageant, but honestly if I could have won thousands of dollars in scholarship money because of my beauty I would not have thumbed my nose at that chance. And according to a PBS documentary on the Miss America pageant, someone like me or Ms. Davuluri or Vanessa Williams couldn’t have participated in the pageant in its heyday anyway.
But now we are a post-racial society with a lame duck, second term African American president and a Miss America of Indian descent.
The racist comments thrown at a beauty pageant winner matter because even if the laws say we belong, our neighbors, the ones I as a Christian am supposed to love, are spewing hate. My neighbors, who may even claim faith in the same God and Jesus I do, are the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends and neighbors, of people who are using violent, ugly, racist language to remind me and millions of other Americans we don’t belong, are not welcome, are less than. Some of my neighbors are wondering why I’m spending so much time on Miss America when 12 people lost their lives in a shooting in Washington, DC.
It’s not either or.
You may not be on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist. There are racist tweets about the shooting in DC just like there were about the new Miss America. Did you hold your breath when you heard about the shooting and hope, “Please, don’t let the gunman be White.”? (If you don’t understand the question, just trust me. There were plenty of Americans, Christian and not, who were hoping that the gunman wasn’t Black, Brown or Yellow.) The gunman, the murderer? He was Black. Did you hold your breath when you heard about the new Miss America and think, “It won’t be long before the racist comments hit the airwaves.”? (Are you thinking, “Why would anyone think that?” Trust me. There were plenty of Americans, Christian and not, who knew this racist stuff was going to happen.) The pageant winner? She is Brown. You can be the beauty or the beast but in America neither is safe from the vicious words and hearts of some of my racist neighbors. You can’t win.
But this isn’t about winning anymore than Esther’s story is about winning. What I also learned in the Bible is that God invites the most unlikely people in the most unlikely circumstances to do the most unlikely things. So who knows what is to become of the Miss America pageant or Twitter or who will be the heroes and the villains in the next tragedy. Esther’s story is about speaking truth, stepping out in faith, fighting for justice, finding your voice, leaning on others, owning your power and space, even if you think it’s crazy, or not your place, or something you’re really not interested in getting involved in right now because it isn’t your thing like risking your life or your reputation or your time on something as little as few hateful, vicious words written in English about someone who is my neighbor.
***Let’s be clear about this, dear readers. The reaction to Nina Davuluri is not dumb or obnoxious, as The Huffington Post would have us believe. It is racist. Don’t tell me it’s just a stupid beauty pageant because that doesn’t make it better or OK or less racist or problematic. Please don’t suggest that the comments may only reflect a minority of Americans. This past December, 77% of Americans identified as Christian. So, if the racist comments are coming from the 23% of Americans who don’t identify as Christians, we Christians should be a wee bit more vocal when this kind of very un-Jesus behavior rears its ugly head. God help us all if any of the comments come from the 77% – the majority, who identify as Christian.
You may now go back to your regularly scheduled reading. Thank you.***
We all have a lot of work to do. It’s Monday morning, and I am just finding the top of my desk.
But this can’t wait because none of us should wake up to racist bull on a Monday.
I have not watched a Miss America pageant in decades. I have never been in a beauty pageant, though many of my mother’s friends suggested I ought to try my hand at the Miss Korea pageant because back when I was young the art of blepharoplasty had not yet been perfected and culturally accepted. Back when I was young Miss America was always about the blonde, blue-eyed beauty winning. It was just like high school.
This morning my twitter feed and FB page had many, many posts about the new Miss America. Nina Davuluri, Miss New York, was crowned Miss America. Davuluri is the first Miss America winner of Indian descent. The first runner-up was Miss California, Crystal Lee, also not White. They are incredibly bright, talented, and beautiful women because beyond the bikinis these women also have brains. And because Davuluri is both beautiful and bright, she can’t win. We are uncomfortable with the idea that a bright woman can also be incredibly beautiful and, gasp, sexy. She can strut her bikini body and head to medical school.
More power to her.
But what really stinks is the racist, hateful, ignorant garbage being thrown out there about our Miss America by Americans because she is brown. Please note that many of the tweets and comments are by younger White Americans who have grown up in a post-Civil Rights, post-Voting Rights Act, post-racial America because see we voted a Black American into our highest office not once but twice. These younger White Americans are supposedly more informed, more open, more accepting, less politically correct, less racist, less insensitive, more connected via the World Wide Web.
Some of these people think she is Arab. Um. She’s American. She is not from Western Asia or North Africa. She is from New York.
Here’s the kicker. As a Christian Asian American woman who grew up in the Midwest, I grew up assuming Eve, Queen Esther, Ruth, Rachel, Mary, Martha, the bleeding woman, the sinful woman, the woman at the well, and all the other women of the Bible, the beautiful, godly women I should aspire to were like Barbie and Miss America – white, blonde and beautiful. And why wouldn’t I have thought that with all of the felt storyboard Bible images, the child-friendly Bibles with pictures of a blonde Jesus and fair-skinned children at his feet, and the blonde Jesus picture so many of us Korean American Christian families had hanging up in our homes. (We had two – one portrait-style and one of Jesus standing at a door.)
I hope and pray none of the racist comments are also coming from Christians who are White Americans. I hope and pray the racist comments aren’t coming from people who believe America belongs to Christians, not Arabs or Muslims because the two are interchangeable. (Not.)
I hope and pray the racist vitriol breaks your heart.
It should break every American and every Christian’s heart because racism should be un-American and hating your neighbor from New York is un-Christian.
OK, dear readers. I don’t know about you, but chapter three was tough for me. As if wanting to succeed and having ambition isn’t taboo enough, now we women get to really get emotionally naked and talk about likeability. Well, let’s get naked.
Sandberg dives in with some personal anecdotes to put flesh on the idea that cultural norms tend to associate men with leadership qualities and women with nurturing qualities creating a double bind for women. If a woman lead, she’s basically screwed because if she comes off like a man then people don’t like her, and if she is nice people like her but she can’t get ahead or get anything done. (I know I oversimplified, but I’m not writing a book here.) I’d like to add that it is a double bind for White women. For women of color, there is a racial/cultural twist that adds to the complexity of the issue – it’s a braid.
If a Black woman raises her voice she can quickly become “that (fill in the blank with your synonym of choice) Black woman.”
If a Latina raises her voice she can quickly become “that (fill in the blank with your synonym of choice) Latina.”
If an Asian American woman raises her voice she can quickly become “that dragon lady.” I get to pick the description because this is me.
Sandberg doesn’t have to fight the stereotypes of geishas, those waitresses who can’t speak English, those nail techs at strip mall nail shops who speak in their foreign languages that make English-only-speaking customers worry if they are being made fun of (maybe for once it’s not about you), “I love you long time”, petite & subservient women who cover their mouths when they giggle. Sandberg isn’t straddling multiple cultures in the same way most women of color have to do, and if she does I wish she had included that in her book.
Her suggestions for overcoming the likeability issue is to own one’s success (p. 44), substitute “we” for “I” (p.47), and emote and quickly get over it (p.50). Again, easier said than done.
Let’s tackle emotions because I have a lot of them at any given moment. My dad says I wear all of my emotions on my face the moment I feel them. My mom has always joked that I am the crybaby of the family. When my younger sister was in trouble and getting disciplined, I would be the one crying. That being said, I still cry a lot and I’ve struggled with processing emotions appropriately.
Getting over it quickly isn’t always possible nor do I believe it is the best thing to do in all cases. Yes, sometimes it’s better to take a breath and carry on. Earlier this summer during a fabulous road trip to the East Coast another driver did not appreciate my reminder that the left lane is for passing and shared his ill-manicured middle finger with me, and I responded in kind. I really should’ve just muttered under my breath about the rules of the road and moved on.
But sometimes as a leader, as a friend, as a parent, I have the opportunity to take a breath, name the emotion, connect it to what is going on for me in the conversation. I can help others by explaining what may be obvious to me but confusing to the person watching me: I’m angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed, etc. and it’s difficult, confusing, hurtful, etc. And then instead of hijacking the meeting by addressing my emotion, I can release the meeting to move along with the understanding that this is where I am coming from. It may slow things down, but in a world where we are often misreading each others’ cues – whether it’s through email, tweets, Facebook posts, or in face-to-face conversations, I believe we actually do need to name those emotions more and more.
So after my older son called me out on my expression of anger and frustration, I explained to him that I was ticked off and frustrated but that I shouldn’t have flipped off the other driver. I should’ve been satisfied with honking my horn and flashing my high beams.
Sandberg goes on to say that women need to own their successes and essentially speak in more communal terms when it comes to succeeding, at least in the business world.
Asian Americans who have a grasp of their mother tongue or culture experience the stark contrast between White American Western individualism and their cultures of origin. My Korean name does not start with my given name. It starts with my family name, my last name first because it isn’t about “me” or “I’ but about “we” and “us.” When you go to a traditional Korean restaurant you may have your “own” main dish but all the banchan – the side dishes that fill the table – are meant to be shared.
The feedback many of us Asian Americans have heard is that we are not assertive enough, we don’t self-promote and talk about our successes. But as an Asian American woman if I get into a shouting match and match tone and posture with a male colleague during a simulation in a leadership seminar, I get a talking to about my anger, aggression, and emotion, even if I try to get over it it comes back in evaluations and folklore. The male colleague does not.
Women don’t shout and point fingers. Asian American women certainly don’t shout and point fingers. And Christian women of all shades don’t shout and point fingers.
So what’s a woman to do?
I do think that as women we need to better own our successes whether they are in the business world, in our communities, in our churches, in our homes. I think the wins are important to name, recognize, and celebrate not just for ourselves but for us, our friends and family. And we, as Christian women of all shades, need to bring an end to the Mommy Wars. There is too much in current pop culture that wants to chip away at love that endures and success that brings us closer to “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” that can easily get lost as women argue about of working outside of the home versus working at home by focusing on our families. Success in our workplaces, in our friendships, in our marriages are worth leaning in to achieve, and I do believe that can come for both men and women in both the secular and the sacred.
What does that look like practically? For me it has meant owning my skills and talent for writing. I’m still figuring out some of the major details, but in the meantime I’m learning to say things like, “I am an author” without giggling. I am also making time to write for fun, to improve my craft, and to make some extra money while writing about things I am passionate about and believe furthering the conversations will bring us closer to kingdom come.
So what do you think? How difficult is it to own your own successes? Has success cost being liked? Do you like this post? Do you still like me?
I am an author.
I am an author.
I am an author.
It doesn’t matter which word I emphasize. It feels awkward. Fake. Or at least bit of a stretch. Maybe even lying. But it isn’t. Not really. I mean I’m not a full-time writer, and my blog doesn’t have a huge following. And I didn’t write an entire book. I just wrote two chapters of “More Than Serving Tea”.
When I say, “I am an author” I feel like a fraud. I feel like someone will figure out that being a co-author actually means “not an author”. I am afraid that my book doesn’t really count. Or worse, that what I wrote doesn’t count.
It gets so bad my editor, Al Hsu, who also is an author, has corrected me on more than one occasion, reminding me that my name is on record with the Library of Congress or something like that.
But (un)fortunately, I’m not alone. That unique version of self-doubt has a name – the impostor syndrome. Sheryl Sandberg writes about it in “Lean In”, chapter two: Sit at the Table, recalling a speech given by Dr. Peggy McIntosh from the Wellesley Centers for Women. In the speech, McIntosh explains many women feel fraudulent when praised or recognized for their achievements. Note, that it isn’t even praise or recognition for our potential that causes us women to feel like frauds. Even when we are recognized for our done deeds we feel like frauds. Forget ambition. How can a fake excel at anything?
Well that sucks.
I’m hoping there is a generational & cultural shift with my daughter’s and sons’ generation. They are perhaps too young to be the whiny, self-absorbed millennials who have been told they are special (please note attempt at sarcasm and hyperbole but rooted in a wee bit of truth), but I have been cautious and intentional with my hovering, praise, affirmation, umbilical cord-cutting, and recognition of their accomplishments and connecting that to not only their potential but to who God has created them to be, connecting the doing with their being.
Sandberg writes “the real issue was not that I felt like a fraud, but that I could feel something deeply and profoundly and be completely wrong.” (p. 32) For the up and coming generations the mistake might be that they feel deeply and profoundly capable of succeeding in whatever they want and be completely wrong because they have grown up being praised for every benchmark and awarded for showing up. I don’t have that problem.
My immigrant parents did not make it a habit of praising me because:
- They didn’t want me growing up believing my accomplishments defined me or made me better than anyone else.
- They didn’t want me to think I was the center of the universe because I wasn’t. The family was.
- Showing up was the bare minimum, not special.
- They didn’t want others to think they thought too highly of their own parenting or of the success of their child.
- They spoke “Asian” where an indirect compliment like “Your teacher likes you.” could be translated into “You did a great job on that project, and the teacher recognized your effort and mastery of the material. I’m proud of you.”
- They were busy surviving.
It wasn’t until I was well into my adulthood I recognized my parents were and are proud, but for those of us who fought to just fit in and be “American” the impostor syndrome, I believe, is not only connected to our accomplishments but to a deeper sense of not belonging, of being unwelcome and rejected despite our accomplishments. We feel like frauds to the core as we straddle two cultures and sometimes two languages and while we try to lean in and sit at the table we are also figuring out how to respond to people who ask us where we are from or tell us to go back to where we came from. And our fear of being “found out” as a fraud carries with it the weight of being identified as “the other” and jeopardizing the chances of all the other “others”. If someone like Sandberg has to bring her A+ game, where does that leave me? That is the part of the impostor syndrome Sandberg, as a White woman, doesn’t have to address. Am I disappointed that she doesn’t? Yes, but no more disappointed than when all the male authors I’ve read have ignored the gender and culture issue.
But these posts aren’t about getting stuck but about taking what I found a helpful book and getting dialogue started and sharing thoughts and advice. Sandberg gives a few pieces of advice I want us to think about.
- “It sometimes helps to fake it” (p. 33). At face value, my Sunday School lessons kick in and scream “NOOOOOO!” As a Christian I am supposed to be honest and trustworthy not fake. Isn’t feeling like a fake part of the problem anyway? But I don’t think that is what Sandberg is talking about. She is talking about not relying solely on our feelings, which are important and valid but not always the complete truth of a situation. It’s like being married for 20+ years. There are many moments when I am not in love with Peter, but I have to choose through my actions with help of a mighty God to love. (And I know Peter has to do the same for me.) Perhaps Queen Esther’s decision to approach the King despite not having been called into his presence is another parallel. Did she walk in feeling completely confident? No, but she did it with as much as she could muster. As an Asian American woman who has grown up learning to swallow my suffering, there is a redemptive side to that task as I have learned that sometimes swallowing or pushing aside the fear, insecurities, and pain actually gives space for God to move in.
- “There is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do” (p. 35). There is a danger in Christian culture to believe that God’s will is like a needle in a haystack or we are marionettes that God is puppeteering. We wait to find the perfect college, to get the perfect degree, to get the perfect job, to meet and marry the perfect spouse, to have perfect children at the perfect time with a perfect birth story, to live the perfect life. I’m pretty sure that Jesus was the only perfect person in the Bible. Everyone else’s story is messed up – adulterers, murderers, liars, cheaters. Many of the people we read about in scripture were not perfect fits – King David, Queen Esther, Rahab, and many others were chosen for roles they didn’t fit into and chose to take action despite who they were, what they had done, where they were. As an Asian American girl, I grew up mistakenly believing I had to be perfect in order to succeed, and there was a lot of fear in making the wrong choice. But as an Asian American woman I know that my ability to navigate cross-culturally is a strength that makes an imperfect fit exactly what I’ve learned to enter into.
- “No one accomplishes anything alone.” (p. 38). One of the best parts of writing “More Than Serving Tea” was that it was a group effort. We all had our own chapters and assignments. We all hit our own writing walls. But we saw this as something special. Not all achievements are a group project, but Sandberg’s statement rings true. It was not good for Adam to be alone, and Adam and Eve were not created alone for God said, “Let us make human being in our image, in our likeness…” (Genesis 1: 26, TNIV). From the start we were created for community in community. As an Asian American I resonate with that deeply. My Western upbringing was about pulling myself up by my bootstraps, but reality has shown me that when I am humble enough to ask for help, wise enough to accept it, and brave enough to share space, influence, and power with others the craziest things are possible.
So, my dear readers, do you struggle with feeling like a fraud? Is there a phrase like “I am an author” that makes you feel like a fake? What has helped you overcome the impostor syndrome?
I realize there are still humans who do not tweet, post status updates, Instagram, Snapchat, or remotely care about any of that stuff. But just because it doesn’t matter to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact on the World. Sometimes ignorance isn’t bliss. It just keeps you in your bubble. And even if you do dabble in that world, you know it moves incredibly fast so it would not be shocking to me if you have no idea what the hashtags in the title of this post mean.
Fast Company, a magazine focused on tech, business, and design, produced on Tuesday a list of the 25 smartest women on twitter. Again, you may not care, but it is a reflection of what is going on in the world.
And on the same day came this list of 25 Christian blogs you should be reading came out with some fanfare.
The first list had no women of color. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. #fail
Now, today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. The Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a dream when people would not be judged by the color of their skin but of the content of their character.
So does it matter that out of 50 names of influential people 50 years after Dr. King’s speech that only two are not White? Should I not care?
Both lists had me spending some time online responding, reading, lamenting, and hoping that despite the sheer amount of virtual noise that exists in our cloud-supported virtual world there would be spaces to learn from one another. I can still hope, can’t I?
Both lists also elicited a response. The twitterverse responded with #SmartAAPIWomenofTwitter #SmartBlackWomenofTwitter #SmartLatinaWomenofTwitter (isn’t that redundant?) #SmartNativeWomenofTwitter as a way to self-promote women from those communities who are engaging the virtual world and to draw attention to the blatant lack of diversity in Fast Company’s list.
Similarly, Christian bloggers of color interacted via tweets, emails and Facebook wondering how and why the Evangelical church finds teaching about diversity and inclusion easier than the actual practice of it. And ironically some of us blamed ourselves for nominating each other, voting up each other’s blogs, self-promoting and promoting one another.
Why is that important? Because even in this day and age, 50 years after the march on Washington women of color are invisible, but because of technology there is an opportunity to draw the attention of a broader audience. Because even in this day and age, a high-profile publication or an influential leader can create a list of leaders and believe that they are judging people by their character instead of recognizing the limitations and cultural blind spots of their own networks, readers, and methods. Because I want to expect more from the “experts”, especially those who come from my Evangelical tribe and call me a sister in faith.
So I ask you again, dear reader, does it matter that out of 50 names of influential people 50 years after Dr. King’s speech that only two are not White?
Female accomplishments come at a cost. Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In, p. 17
What would you do if you weren’t afraid? p. 25
I’m finally at chapter one. Now, that isn’t to say I won’t jump back to the introduction.
Working in vocational ministry for 15 years as a married mother of one, two, and then three has come with great joy, transformation and cost. It’s easier to celebrate the joy and transformation, but it has not served me to dismiss the cost of pursuing this particular call as an Asian American Christian woman.
In the eyes of most of my family I still do not have a real job; as an Asian American woman “family” does not (if ever) mean my nuclear family. It means FAMILY – nuclear, of origin, and in-law with varying generational depths spanning continents and time. Despite working 40+ hours in this faux-job, the individual funding model used to raise support does not do me any favors. Traditional networks for missionary support require involvement in traditional evangelical networks from which I do not come from.
In the eyes of the Asian, and particularly the Korean-, American evangelical church in the Midwest I am a bit of a anomaly, which is a polite way of saying I don’t fit. It ties back to vocational ministry not being a real job. I am not a pastor, nor am I a pastor’s wife. I am not a youth director, children’s pastor or women’s pastor. I am not credentialed – no MDiv, no M anything (not even Mrs. since I didn’t take my husband’s last name when we married), no ordination. We women are making strides, but one of my flaws is my impatience.
And there has been a cost to my husband and family. Imagine our horror when a pastor met privately with my husband about my behavior. Actually, I wasn’t surprised, which is the horror of it all.
It’s not all bad, not all horrible, but at a recent book club discussion I did share with my fellow readers and women that I am a bit tired of blazing trails. It gets lonely. It gets hard, confusing, and exhausting.
Which is where part of Sandberg’s motivation for her book comes in to nudge me back.
What would I do if I wasn’t afraid? Actually, the question for me goes back a step. Why and of what am I afraid of? My faith should inform me. The Lord is my shepherd, and I lack nothing. The psalmist writes the same Lord “delivered me from all my fears” .
I am afraid of failing. Of success. Of disappointing others. Of trying too hard to please others. Of losing myself.
But if I wasn’t afraid, what would I do?
When I wasn’t afraid I managed to repel off of a mountain face in Colorado. I helped write a book. I told my husband to get his mother out of the delivery room. I asked a stranger if she was going to be OK because the young man she was with was yelling at her. I told people I was still sad, months after a miscarriage and years after my youngest child almost died. I asked for a brief leave of absence from work when things were getting emotionally difficult.
The Lord is my shepherd.
What are you afraid of? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
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.