Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reflections on Leadership

Coming off a trip to southern California to attend the Asian Pacific Islander Women's Leadership Conference, I've been reflecting a lot on what it means for me to be a leader. I share these honest, inconclusive thoughts with you in hopes that you will get a glimpse of what God is doing in my life.

Throughout my years with InterVarsity, I've always had a clearly defined leadership role. As a student I was on my chapter's leadership team for two years and during my senior year I led a Bible study. During my three years on campus staff, I discipled three women and led small group leaders' training every week. I taught and trained students at conferences and events that I also was involved in planning. I gave Bible expositions at large group meetings.
a banner I designed for APIWLC
But in my current role as a graphic designer, I'm actually just a minion. I have projects assigned to me and my work needs the approval of my supervisor and clients (who are actually my coworkers) to be completed. I need to ask permission to take on new work. Any ideas I have need to be approved to be implemented. Although our team is collaborative, there aren't many situations where I'm the leader of the team. In fact, in the one place where I do have some leadership (2100's weekly infographics), it is the most unofficial part of my job. Although I spend a large portion of my time on it, it's treated as the lowest priority. As such, I've always felt hesitant to embrace my role as a "leader" of this project.

Calling myself a leader in my current role feels like a bit of a stretch.

I've learned that my identity as an Asian American, as a woman, and an Asian American woman play a significant role in how I interact with and encounter my work context. I am currently the only Asian American woman on my team, and in our office of about 100, there are only 4 or 5 of us. My team (as well as the office) is dominated by white, married, older men. As far as I know, in its 35+ years of history, twentyonehundred has always been led by a white man.

Some people may think race or gender no longer matter, that we're in a "post-race" world. But it's something I am always aware of - especially now that I do not have a local Asian American community in my life. Whether or not it's felt by others, I am always conscious when I am the only Asian American in the room. I sense that I take up less space, physically, yes, because I am 5'2" and less than 100 lbs. But I also take up less space in the conversation, in the way culture is formed, in decisions that get made.

My ethnic and gender identity are all wrapped up with my perfectionist tendencies, my hesitancy to speak up early in a conversation, my desire to go with the flow and maintain harmony. This raises many challenges in how I represent my voice, my point of view, my experiences to the people I work with.

One of the things we talked about at the conference was how Asian American women often sell themselves short. We will rarely take credit for our accomplishments; we do not like to tell people that we're good at something or that we have something to contribute. It goes against everything we were told about how to be a "good Asian girl."  I've realized that this is very much how I operate. I'm self-deprecating and hesitant to feel proud of my achievements. When I do receive praise, I feel sheepish, even guilty. I tend to use humor to offset my discomfort in talking about my abilities and qualities.
In case you didn't know, I love Disney. and L is the Roman numeral for 50. I posted this image all over the office when I came back from the conference. It's been an ongoing joke for a few days now.
Several times throughout the conference, we were reminded that God created us in his image. I have worth, I have value. I am a daughter of God, dearly loved and called to do good things that he prepared just for me. I am enough.

Hearing that was so deeply healing and encouraging to me. I came into the conference feeling emotionally drained, with low self-confidence and not much excitement about being there. While those things were still on my mind, I did sense a deep reassurance that God was present with me at the conference, and that he wanted me to be there. He reminded me, "I am writing your story, Laura. Trust me."
during a brief journaling/art time, I drew out a few phrases I heard God telling me.

I know that the journey continues, now that I've returned to my context, in all its imperfections and challenges. I want to believe that like Esther, God has called me to where I am "for such a time as this." But I also am aware that there are obstacles: deep set cultural norms, working against the majority, my own inhibitions and bad habits, the desire to go the easy route.

I wish I could conclude these reflections with a certainty that now I feel totally empowered to change the world. But I'm not so naive to believe it'll be easy. I'm still learning, processing, and growing into the Asian American woman, and the leader, that the Lord has made me to be. Only He knows how the story will go.


  1. Our certainty comes from the One who writes our story.

    I'm still processing the conference, mulling over how significant it was for me, and why that was so....

    This was a great reflection on the conference, Laura. Thank you so much for being present and for writing this.

    As for your fiftyfifty productions logo, I suspect that in due time God will be the only one laughing in delight as you continue to become and understand the leader He is making you to be.

    1. Thanks for your comment Kathy. I was feeling vulnerable after posting this, and to have a first comment - recognition that my voice was heard, was very significant. :) Looking forward to reading your thoughts from the conference on your blog soon!

  2. Great to read your reflections, both on your current 2100 work setting and on what you 'heard' at the conference. If Nikki had asked me to bring a few words of greeting as sr pastor of EBCLA, I would have said, "I hope all of you feel 100% safe and affirmed here on our campus. We believe with all our hearts that women--especially API sisters--are critical and valued partners in the work of Christ."

  3. I missed the conference, so I am especially grateful for your reflection. Thanks.

  4. Thank you for this reflection, Laura. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and openness to God's calling and how to live in such a time as this but also to hope for the future and desire to grow.

    To be honest, I didn't attend the conference because I didn't think it applied to me. My definition of "leader" is shaped by societal stereotypes where leaders are mainly dominant white males. Or if you are a woman, then to be a leader means you have to have some sort of description in your title that reflects leadership - like Manager or Director. And now...I'm kicking myself for not seeing the leader within so I could continue to grow and be stretched at a conference like this.

    Lots to think about for sure. I look forward to seeing how this conference continues to play out in your life.

    1. Kylene, you know, if I hadn't been given free registration I probably wouldn't have attended either. :) I'm glad I did! We should chat some more about AA women stuff. I'm realizing how important it is to have a community to process and share with.

    2. I just saw your reply. I'd love to talk more about this! And to hear more about the conference from your perspective. Let me know when you're free. Maybe we could do it over a brown bag lunch sometime. Or coffee. :)

  5. thanks for re-sharing this and putting yourself out there again.