Lean in Chapter Two: Sit at the Table

People say they see me as confident, but I think it is mostly because I am tall.

Recently I have taken steps to minister in a new context, away from the college ministry I was accustomed to, and found myself leading a training on listening prayer with people mostly older than myself and I was ACUTELY aware of the fact that I probably should have just stayed home that morning.  It was an intimidating step for me and I was feeling shaky in this new context and was certain everyone in the room could see just how I felt – like a little girl coming to ‘play’ meeting.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s second chapter of Lean In, she once again weaves her own story and experience with research-backed studies.  In some such studies it has been proven that time and time again women will not only underestimate their ability (regardless of how competent, smart and prepared they are) but are also significantly more likely to attribute external factors to their success, as oppose to their male counterparts who attribute their own awesomeness to their success  🙂  (As a side note, although there are lots of studies presented that compare men and women, as well as all kinds of societal dysfunction mentioned, there is ZERO man-bashing.  Sandberg is a professional who works with men, who hires men and works for men, and she has great respect for men – I so appreciate that tone and that gave the author a lot more credibility speaking into these topics!)

On the anecdotal end she began the chapter by describing a meeting she hosted that was kind of a big deal.  The majority in attendance were men, with the exception of four women.  All four women chose not to claim seats at the conference table, but rather sat in the chairs lining the perimeter of the meeting room.

“The four women had every right to be at this meeting, but because of their seating choice, they seemed like spectators rather than participants”

Just like how in Chapter One she attributes fear as the root cause of the lack of outward ambition by women, Sandberg digs a little deeper to some underlying issues in regards to women putting themselves out there (whether it is raising hand in class, applying for a new position, etc).  I love that she does this because I may never have the command of a board room, but the basics of what women experience are similar underneath it all.

The shared attribute that she is referring to, that many women experience, is that of “feeling a fraud”.  That day when I was leading a prayer training I was in my element, but that didn’t stop me from feeling  like a bit of a fraud, and on some level I was waiting for others to see it, too.  But the truth is I love teaching and training.  I love casting vision for others.  I love prayer and I loved the people in the room.  According to my beliefs I am even empowered and given the gifts and abilities to do these things with spiritual authority and annointing.

Sandberg endorses the  “Fake it ’till you make it” strategy in this chapter.  For women who don’t feel confident, or are about to aspire for something that may legitimately go beyond their experience and skill level, she recommends they “fake it” because based on her knowledge and research, women don’t lack the ability, they lack the confidence.

I don’t think it is just the boardroom where women feel like frauds.  As a woman who spends most of her hours as a mother and homemaker, I have moments when I feel like a fraud. Sometimes my very insightful daughter (pretty sure she is an INFJ like her ole’ mom) looks at me with THESE EYES and I am sure she sees right through me.  Like she knows I am flawed, knows I am weak, knows I am floundering a bit here and there.

It gets even more complicated in the Church where theological interpretations of how far a woman should lean in, or if she should lean in at all, varies substantially between congregations and individuals. When I walked into the room to lead that prayer training, I knew it was a mixed bag of beliefs.  What if someone here really thinks I should be away from the table, spectating instead of leading and participating?

But whether a corporation has equal pay and supportive policies for working mothers or not, or whether a church has strict roles for women to play or not; women will doubt themselves.

Women underestimate themselves.

Women don’t put their hands up.

Women sit back from the  table.

And even though, as I just mentioned, The Church is a mixed bag of beliefs on women (and that will always be the case, I’m learning to live with it*), I am thankful that I can approach ANY job – whether it is as a mother or a minister or a teacher or a CEO – not as a fraud, but as called in Christ.  Because in Christ I realize that I am made to have an impact, I am made to have influence.  And it is as real and genuine as can be.

I may need some pep talks along the way but I don’t need to “Fake it Till I Make It” – whether I be at home nurturing, up front speaking or if I ever find myself in a cubicle (please Lord don’t ever put me in a cubicle!).

I need to remind myself of that, especially when I read a chapter like this.   I need to remind myself that things are different with God.  Things are possible with God.  The Holy Spirit works the Fraud out of us.

When I walk into that meeting, or my child’s bedroom, or a conversation that feels over my head or a job interview or heck even the kitchen – I want to survey the people present and survey the work to be done and be ready to love and engage in absolute fullness.  I want to pick a good chair to sit in, use my voice and offer my hands – fully dependent upon God and therefor fully able to lean in.

I don’t have to underestimate or overestimate.  I can appropriately esteem my own abilities based on the fact that I am made in the image of a Great God, and full of His Spirit and full of Purpose.  This is a good truth women (and men!), whether working in the secular world or ministry world or simply changin’ diapers at home.

Now let’s all take our seat at the table!**



*I respect lots of people who have different views of women, I’m obviously not talking about those that allow or perpetuate spiritual, physical and emotional abuse of women.  Just to clarify.

**Or, as Sarah Bessey puts it, hack that conference table into pieces for a great bonfire, and then dance around it!)


3 thoughts on “Lean in Chapter Two: Sit at the Table

  1. Jody

    The woman at the well, Rahab the harlot, the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, all women who knew they could go to Jesus who gave them their identity!! Our roles change but wherever we find ourselves we can always sit at the table with Jesus. These posts are quite thought provoking. Thanks for going through the book. I’ve heard of it but haven’t read it.


    1. Kirsten

      Thanks Jody. It’s sort of a writing assignment I have given myself for practice, I’ve enjoyed this book more than some other secular books on women in work – I would recommend it.


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