Thoughts on Leadership While the Nail Polish Dries

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.

 

 

Happy unEqual Pay Day

By the time most of you read this, working women across America will just be starting to earn their wages for 2012 because until Tuesday, April 17, we were working hard to catch up to what men earned in 2011.

Did you catch that?

Women who work outside of the home had to work 15.5 months to earn what men earned in 12. That is bad math, my friends. And it makes me tired.

“Happy unEqual Pay Day”. 

Woo hoo.

Part of my working-for-pay-mom weariness is that during the past few weeks another wave of the Mommy Wars erupted over comments made by and responses to comments made by a politician’s wife, pitting women against women – those who work for pay outside of the home and those who don’t, a.k.a stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs).

Some want to argue this as a cultural and moral issue – whether or not women, and specifically mothers, working outside of the home, are “good” for children and society as a whole.

Others want to keep this to a policy issue – whether or not the government should be mandating or even guaranteeing rights and privileges.

And then those of us who fall under the broad banner of “Christian” may hold to varying degrees of how the Bible looks at all of this.

It leaves me tired. And sad. And angry. It’s not one thing or another. It’s not simple, even if you really, really, really want it to be simple because whether or not a woman (a mother or not) is working outside of the home, or whether or not you believe she should even be working outside of the home, she still needs to work longer and harder to earn the same average amount as a man.

And “she” isn’t just someone out there. “She” is the one typing this post and also many readers of this post.

It reminds me a bit of  what my parents and grandmother used to say to me when I was younger.

“KyoungAh (my real name), you have to work harder and do better than they do (Americans=White people) so they know you are the same as they are, even though you are better.”

This was while I learned in my Korean immigrant experience that as a Korean girl I had to work harder than the boys because no one would want a stupid, lazy, ugly daughter-in-law who didn’t go to a good college and learn how to peel fruit and serve tea.

And that was before I knew about unEqual Pay Day, which spans all degrees of melanin and should serve to remind all of us that the system is broken for all of us – men and women. As a Christ-follower, I continue to wrestle with what the Apostle Paul wrote:

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” I Cor. 12:26 TNIV

Last week I was grateful to gather at a table of leaders in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to talk about how leadership is impacted by both gender and ethnicity. These leaders, who all happened to be women, listened and shared about the complexity of growing in leadership being fully present as women of color. I realize that not all would include Asian Americans within the circle of women of color, but in this conversation we were. We all understood that even as we discuss “women’s issues” there is an additional layer, nuancing and gift of experience we bring.

We tried, if for only an hour, to listen, to suffer, to honor and to rejoice with one another.

So I’ll acknowledge my weariness, take a nap, and get back to it. And I invite all of my brothers and sister of all races and ethnicities to share in one another’s burdens and to imagine and perhaps share some thoughts, stories, ideas of what it looks like to carry this burden with one another.

Leadership #Fail and Other Fun Lessons

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?

Some Women Were Watching

“Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.” Mark 15:40, 41 TNIV

I know many women who have experienced the death of a child. We have grieved the loss of babies lost to miscarriages and in infancy. Children lost to physical death. Teenagers and adult children dead before their mothers. Mothers who cared deeply for their children and their needs. Who held their breath and watched as they could only hope that the darkness of death would pass over.

My son was not crucified. I am not Mary. I am a woman, a wife, a mother to a son. I know “my place” is not always to preach and teach but to “share” and “give testimony”. I imagine Jesus on the cross, the crowds, the centurion, and then the women.

I remember my then four-year-old son’s body lying near lifeless on the adult-sized hospital gurney. Those hours took me to despair and hours of darkness. Tubes, machines, drugs, doctors, and nothing helped so they sunk him closer to death. And I sat there. I watched until they forced me to leave. I touched him when others poked and prodded and walked away. I spoke to him, sang to him, prayed for him while others talked about him and walked away.

I know it was a miracle. I was there. I was watching.

On this dark Good Friday I remember what Jesus did and who he is. I read the scripture knowing what happens and how the disciples run away and hide just when I want to hear their voices loud and clear. And then I see them and hear them. Some women were watching.

 

Asian American Women: Your Experiences Matter

Asian American women, ages 18 and older, your experiences matter. Your stories matter.

I came across this in my reader and wanted to spread the word. I don’t know Pauline Chan but the topic of her study (the connection between social experiences and well-being) interests me, and it may interest you.

My name is Pauline Chan, a graduate student in the Counseling Psychology doctoral program at Boston College. I am a second generation Chinese American and am working on my dissertation under the direction of Dr. Belle Liang. The study focuses on the social experiences of Asian American women. The study has been approved by the Boston College Office for Research Protections Institutional Review Board (Protocol #12.172.01A).

I am writing to ask Asian American women to participate in my online dissertation research survey and to offer an opportunity to be entered in a random drawing for an Amazon.com gift certificate for participation in the survey (5 $20 gift certificates and 2 $50 gift certificates available).

To participate in the study, participants must:

  • Be 18 years or older, and
  • Self-identify as a woman who is Asian American or a member of an Asian American subgroup

In this survey participants will be asked questions about social experiences in different contexts, social attitudes, culture and well-being. Click here for the survey. The survey will take approximately 35-45 minutes to complete.

In exchange for their time, participants will be given an opportunity to enter a random drawing for an Amazon.com gift certificate when they have completed the survey. Participants who complete the survey will also be offered access to the results of the study once it is completed.

The survey responses are completely anonymous. Any name or email information given will not be linked in any way to the responses and will only be used for the purposes of distributing the gift certificates. Any individual demographic information will also remain confidential and will not be linked to any names or email addresses. Participation is completely voluntary and participants may withdraw from the study at any time.

As there are limited studies about the Asian American experience, all participant responses will be helpful in contributing to our knowledge about Asian Americans. It is my hope that the results of the study will provide insights that will help to improve the life experiences of Asian American women.

If you have any questions, please contact me at chanpa@bc.edu or 617-966-4001. You can also reach my dissertation advisor, Belle Liang, at liangbe@bc.edu or 617-552-4079. Thank you in advance for your help and your time.

Identity Formation & Barbie

I grew up with Barbie and her knock-off cousins. My sister and I had the townhouse with the elevator. The pool. The dream house. With all of the furniture. The remote-controlled Corvette.

The collection finally made complete after a family trip to the Motherland where, in the Itaewon shopping district, we found the perfect outfit for our blonde, blue-eyed and busty dolls – a Barbie-sized hanbok (traditional Korean dress). All Barbie needed was some major surgery, hair dye and contact lenses and she would look just like me and my sister on New Year’s Day.

So when my firstborn came of age I vowed to never buy her a Barbie. She received them as gifts and we did let her keep a few, including Mulan Barbie, and I even broke out my vintage Barbie Dream house and furniture.

I still have the dream house and furniture in the basement, as well as the Barbie hanbok. But hen again, there is a lot of other garbage in my basement.

Admittedly it is a love-hate relationship with Barbie because for all of objectification and stereotyping, she was a part of my childhood which included more friends who looked more and lived more like Barbie. And I wanted friends. I wanted to belong.

I still want to belong. Somewhere.

So when friends posted this link about an ‘adoption Barbie’ I needed a few days to digest it all. The doll has been around for a few years, but the conversations around adoption, identity, desire, broken cultural systems, cultural appropriation, family, assimilation, gender preferences, and citizenship are ancient. Take a look at the Bible and read about Ruth, Esther, the Samaritan Woman, the Bleeding Woman, and a host of other Sunday School classics with grown-up eyes. In many ways, as we
Americans open our eyes to human trafficking, we can see how the world has not changed in how it sees women and girls. We are a commodity that can be dispensed of or used for the benefit of others.

But our genuine desire to find ways to connect our personal stories and experiences can make the adoption Barbie seem rather innocuous of even helpful as a way to commemorate an adoptive child’s “gotcha day”.

My husband and I have been a part of three adoptions, vouching for our friends and writing letters for their case files. We have celebrated with many more friends who have journeyed years through adoption, some with unconditional support of their families and some with reserved support.

And as a mother of American-born Korean children I notice the abundance of blonde dolls and Caucasian role models.

Seriously. Why do you think I went out and bought a copy of Sports Illustrated?! Sports Illustrated?

JEREMY LIN!!!

Years ago I cried with a friend as I told the story of how my daughter wanted a doll with ‘pretty hair’, which I learned was code for blonde hair. I’m still waiting for an Asian American American Girl historical doll. I just don’t know how they would market Jade – the Japanese internment doll. (In my mind, Ivy doesn’t cut it. She’s just Julie’s best friend.)

So the adoption Barbie doll makes me a bit uneasy and leaves me confused. What do you think? Great idea? Weird idea? Savvy marketing? Opportunistic?

And how many of you still have a Barbie or one of her accessories from childhood?

No judging.

What Would You Do If You Saw Him Yelling?

What would you do if you saw a young man verbally abusing a female companion in a public space, calling her names that should make you cringe in a voice loud enough to make heads turn? Would you stare? Would you step in? Would you call security? Would you look down and say a silent prayer?

Is there a difference between what you would hope you would do and what you probably would do?

Power & Submission: Be Not Afraid

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?

Working Mothers: You Are Not Crazy

*Note: I wrote this a few days ago, and then I hesitated to publish this because it seemed whiny. Well, it is. Sort of. It’s my whiny and I’ll hit “publish” if I dare to.

All mothers (and fathers) work, and it is hard, rewarding, amazing, humbling work.

But this is for those of us mothers who also have a job outside of the home.

Am I crazy? I’m not trying to be superwoman, right? We aren’t crazy. Today is just one of those days. Please, someone out there tell me  you know what I’m talking about.

In the past few weeks I have spent a few extra hours talking, laughing, crying and raising my fist in solidarity with other working moms who are scheduling meetings around nursing schedules and feedings and school pick-up and drop-off times while I was juggling a sick kid at home during a home office day and conference calls.

Just this morning, both my boys claimed illness before I had had a chance to make myself a cup of coffee. My husband had to go into the office by a certain time and since my office is downstairs I got the delightful job of trying to gently cajole and then outright threaten them with cancelled play dates to get out of bed.

Boys 2, Mom 0.

Maybe they really are sick?

I try not to get angry at my husband as he leaves. I know he worries about the boys, and he feels bad that I have to stay home and reschedule meetings and phone calls, write deep and moving blogposts, close the books on a training seminar day, finish some work-related reading on leadership and diversity while tending to two boys who will spend the rest of the day complaining about being bored because the fever never materialized. And in the midst of that I can’t get past the crumbs all over the counters and table and floors, but I will manage to get past the clean laundry sitting in a pile on the couch.

I’ll just move it when I need to collapse later.

I try not to get angry that when he comes home he gets to “help” me, which I know he doesn’t mean it  in that way but when I’m tired and cranky (for those of you with young children, you will still have tired and cranky moments with teenagers because by then you are older and have a lower threshold) I can’t stand the fact that he gets to “help” me as if the expectation is that it’s all my job – the kids, the home, the job outside of the home – and he gets to help.

I remember a few times having to listen to both men and women marvel at how Peter managed at home with the baby and then the two kids and now three kids while I traveled. One person even used the term “babysitting”.

Babysitting?

Fathers do not babysit their own children!

And while I do have fun on my business trips (if you love what you do and respect and enjoy the company of the people you work with and for work can be fun), it’s still work.

I try not to get angry, because we both have chosen this lifestyle and agreed that for the time being I will bring in some bacon and fry it up in a pan even though as a woman I need to work 23% more to earn at the same rate as my husband. I try not to get angry, but I certainly have moments where I feel crazy. Today is just one of those days.

And to top it off, I gave up nail polish and candy for Lent…

Gotta go. The little guy is hungry.

Picking Favorites: My Daughter or My Sons

What would you say if I told you that I loved my daughter more than my sons? Or that I loved my sons more than my daughter? Or if I loved my children more than my husband? Or that I loved my husband more than I did my children?

Well, apparently that is essentially what one blogger did, and she’s getting some heat for her post. She writes about loving her son more than her daughter and the difficulties she had bonding with her daughter, who is also her firstborn. And she responds to some really, really mean comments explaining that her post was more about her deepest darkest fears more than a day-to-day intentional favoritism.

But my first reading struck a nerve for various reasons, and I hope it did for you too. Writing about your deepest darkest fears publicly means you better be ready to take what comes at you, and the author pulled the blogpost and then wrote an update clarifying her first post. The blogosphere is a fickle thing. What blogger doesn’t want 400+ comments? Well, when some of those comments tell you that you are stupid, insane, unfit, etc. the number of comments won’t matter. After all that stuff with Deadly Viper, I’ve put much more prayer and pause into each word and post.

Her post also made me think about sibling rivalry in real life – me and my sister, my husband and his siblings, and my own kids. It made me think about Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, Martha and Mary. And how all of us children, girls and boys, have parents who loved their children but failed. Could you imagine the blog posts Abel, Esau and Leah would have written?

Thank God we can all take a breath and remember we’re all human. Right?

Human, flawed parents. Because only a real but imperfect parent in a broken world wouldn’t automatically cry with tears of joy and feel her heart burst when her perfect newborn is placed in her arms. I cried for those reasons and because I was scared out of my hospital gown that my doctor was going to discharge me and assume I had not only read all of the baby books but memorized the information so that I could take care of that teeny, tiny baby whose head (which apparently was still soft and mushy) and body flopped around. How could she not be my favorite?

I actually joke with my kids about being my favorite. Every now and then I will look at my daughter and say, “You are my favorite daughter.” She’s my only daughter. I tell my second child, “You are my favorite son born in June.” And then I’ll tell my youngest, “You are my favorite son born in October.”

My kids think I am crazy, but I say those things because in my heart of hearts I know that because I am human and sinful and flawed that sometimes my imperfect attempt at equal love is not received equally or expressed equally.

I know that to my sons it could look like I favor my daughter because she loves to spend time helping me pick out what outfit to wear to the wedding Peter and I will be attending on Saturday. The boys don’t want to help but they want my time, and today my time went to determining color-appropriateness for a spring but snowy wedding celebration.

And later this month it will look like I am favoring the boys because we are going to spend some time standing in line for the coal mine exhibit and staring at millions and millions of fish while I make jokes about eating shrimp and salmon for dinner. I will be doing my best to ruin my daughter’s spring break because I love my sons more.

When I want a big hug to make me feel good my youngest wins. He will still attempt the koala bear hug where he wraps his arms and legs around me and hang on with a big grin on his face. How could he not be my favorite? How could I not love him more?

When I want to hear words of encouragement and affirmation my older son wins. He will often come up to me and announce, “Mom, I love you. You are an awesome mom.” I use a bookmark he made for me for Mother’s Day four years ago. On it he writes that I am “caring, smart, honest, thankful, beautiful and organized”. Oh my goodness! How could he not be my favorite? How could I not love him more?

And when I want to laugh and share secrets and dreams and fears or dance down the aisle at Costco (actually, she’s the one who does that) or be the one she wants when she’s trying something new and scary my daughter wins. We’ve shared rites of passage together in Sephora, at the foot of her bed in whispers, giggles and tears, and at the wheel of a minivan. How can she not be my favorite? How could I not love her more?

But I don’t. I don’t love my daughter more than my sons or vice versa, but the possibility scares me. It’s scary because I’m Asian and there is a cultural history that has valued the lives of boys and men over the lives of girls and women. Family members hoped I would give birth to a son but God gave me what He thought best – a firstborn daughter. My life is not worth as much, even though my entire physical being as a woman is necessary to produce the more valuable sex.

It’s scary because I’m American with a history of wanting to put women in their place, and then move them into the factories because we were needed, and then putting women back to make space for the more deserving men. I live in America where the trafficking of women and girls is happening everyday and misogyny and sexism is not in the past but in our pop music, vernacular and paychecks. It is our country’s present.

And it’s really, really scary because we don’t want to admit it but we’ve all played favorites, and we’ve all been played. The former is easier than the latter in my experience. I was the smart one. My sister was the pretty one. My parents didn’t play favorites but their words of affirmation felt like it, and it took years/is taking years to untangle those childhood moments. I know I love each of my kids differently but I hope it’s equally because they are created so uniquely by a creative and perfect God, but my love is so imperfect that it’s bound to be misunderstood and unequal.

So I’ve been trying to ease my daughter’s pain by suggesting we go to cupcake shop or walk along the Mag Mile, but there is no way I am going to let my boys help me pick out my outfit for Saturday. (Hmmm. Sexist? Probably. But I’ll save that for another post another day…)