Lean In, Chapter One: The Leadership Ambition Gap

I am pretty sure I have the best husband around.  I could go on and on about what a catch he is, his outstanding character, and how well he treats me.  One of the little things is that he tells me that I am beautiful a lot.  (We could go down a rabbit’s trail about WHY I need to be told this so often, but that is fodder for another blog.)  I, like most women, have days where I feel fabulous and days where I feel fat and frumpy and days in between and maybe I am just vain but I like hearing that I am beautiful.  It feels good.  It doesn’t always feel true, but I am glad my husband sees me that way.

A couple of weeks ago my husband sent me a text affirming once again that that he thinks I am beautiful but in that same text message he also called me intelligent.


And that got me, right in the gut, in a deep and important way.  Being told I am beautiful feels good, and I am always thankful for those words -possibly because it is demanded and expected of me as a woman..ahh!  sorry! rabbit trail! – but being told I am intelligent really meant something.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s opening chapter of Lean In she sets up her case about how… SPOILER ALERT..men and women are treated differently, and she shares some interesting statistical and anecdotal evidence, including a story about a popular children’s clothing store selling onesies to baby boys proclaiming “Smart like Daddy” and onesies to baby girls proclaiming “Pretty like Mommy”.

After getting that text from Jon let me tell you I wanted to zoom over to Hobby Lobby for some puffy paint and make my daughter a shirt loudly proclaiming “Smart like Mommy!”

When questioning why women, who are beautiful and competent and SMART! don’t pursue their careers and callings in the same way as men, Sandberg acknowledges that it is not due to a lack of internal ambition or even inherent biological gender differences, but rather it is fear.

Fear that is only perpetuated and bolstered by society in both:

Blatant ways like sweet tiny baby onesies, pay inequality, poor childcare options, and poor maternity leave options.

and more subtle ways as well.  One that I never considered before was how working women are stereotyped in the media by these two extremes: the soul-less robot in pumps who can’t prioritize a personal life – she gives the example of Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, contrasted with a frazzled, guilt-laden woman letting everyone down – giving the example of Sarah Jessica Parker in the movie I Don’t Know How She Does It.

While I don’t completely agree with society-perpetuated fear being the only factor, as I do think that women and men are…SPOILER ALERT…different, it is true that fear absolutely clobbers women from both sides – from the side of ‘having it all’ and from the side of ‘losing it all’.   Sandberg words it like this:

Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face.  Fear of not being liked.  Fear of making the wrong choice.  Fear of drawing negative attention.  Fear of overreaching.  Fear of being judged.  Fear of failure.  And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.

Naturally as I was reading this chapter, which was excellent and covered many great points, I filtered it through my own experiences and my own biblical worldview, which obviously differs from that of a non-Christian woman in the business world.

I don’t aspire to work 40 hours a week (at this point in my life).  I don’t aspire to wear a power suit and heels.  I don’t aspire to climb the corporate ladder.  But one of the (many!) ambitions I have is to attend seminary.  There I said it!  But as soon as the words are typed here on the screen, wouldn’t you know it, that fear creeps in.

Fear of not being liked.  Fear of making the wrong choice.  Fear of drawing negative attention.  Fear of overreaching.  Fear of being judged.  Fear of failure.  And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.

The fear is present.  The ambition is present.  Society is present. The Bible is present.  My heart is present.  So many factors and layers in how we live our lives!  Here are some of my thoughts:

The first is this:   We can be free from fear as we make decisions, as we seek God’s will with wisdom, humility and love.  God will shape us as we give ourselves more and more to Him.  Growing up I had neither the ambition to attend grad school, seminary, nor the ambition to be a stay at home mom.  God has changed me, a little bit here and there, each time I said ‘yes’ to Him.  But I also screw up a lot and still have many values in my heart that push against Kingdom Values.  What our hours look like from day to day can vary, and how I spend those hours will have good and bad consequences – but hopefully as I grow in Christ my fears of what others think and what ‘might happen’ will diminish.

The second is that I seek to Glorify God and serve others first.  Sometimes even though I want to sit and write a blog,  I end up folding the laundry because it really serves my husband when he doesn’t have to go on a scavenger hunt just to find a clean under shirt.   Although my family supports me and my ambitions, I am not accountable only to myself.  The best decision for us might be for me to work more, or work less or go back to school – but although they are MY ambitions and MY dreams and MY work – I am not queen of my own island, and I am definitely not God, and believe it or not I need to be reminded of that, frequently and gently.

Lean In gets into some nitty gritty with marriage and family dynamics, pay equity, career moves and the myth of “having it all” in the chapters that follow, but this initial part simply asks the broad but important question,

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Have you read this chapter?  What are your thoughts?


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