I am Second

“Christine, why can’t you be like the other girls? Why don’t you play with dolls instead of spending so much time reading? That can’t be healthy.”

“Christine, stop playing soccer with the boys. You should be in the kitchen learning to cook”

“Why do you spend so much time on schoolwork? Boys don’t like girls smarter than they are. No boy will want to marry you.”

The message I heard as a young girl was loud and clear: A good Greek girl should want to learn to cook and play with dolls because her real purpose, her ultimate future, was to grow up, get married, and have babies.

When I turned 17, my family introduced me to a nice Greek man who owned a small grocery store. We fell in love, and he asked me to marry him. Then it was time to have the conversation with his parents. We Greeks like to keep everything in the family.

“Christine, if you go to university, you cannot marry our son,” his mother said. “A woman cannot be more educated than her husband because she will not respect him. You must put away all of these foolish desires for further education and come and work full-time in the family business until you have babies, and then you can work part-time and I will look after the children for you.”

So, it seemed that my mother had been right after all. If I wanted to fulfill the purpose for which I had been created, I would have to quench my passions and minimize who God created me to be. I could of course work as my own mother had, as long as that work did not involve any kind of career or vocation that would take me away from getting married and having children. Work was a necessity to help the family budget, but it could not be a sacred calling or any part of my identity.

If we understand that we are contributing to something larger than just ourselves, it calibrates our heart and attitude. We cultivate purpose, values, and mission when we move together and willingly submit to the collective whole.

Leading second is purposeful not accidental. We step intentionally into our role in domestic decisions, boardroom policies, or academic pursuits. We lead purposefully, not accidently.

Leading second is collaborative and cooperative. We build family/team/coworkers to lean in and build the collective vision, instead of building individual agendas.

Leading second is not abdicating our responsibility because of our position or title. You may never get the recognition, but you get to speak into the vision and further the mission.

Leading second is not passive. Whether you are an intern, student, stay-at-home mom, or new hire, you are part of the decision making process whether you want to be or not. You might not have the biggest vote or loudest voice, but don’t sit idly by and watch the vision happen; you make it happen.

Leading second is not an excuse to do little because you are new, shy, or don’t have a corner office. Laziness and inattention are by-products of people who don’t see their value or care to change.

Ultimately, we are all second. Paul, an apostle and amazing leader, summed it up best: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). We are all second to the One, followers to the greatest leader of all. When you learn to carry the vision, you will learn to lead the vision. But you need to be willing to learn, listen, and lean into being second. Learning to follow will prepare to you lead.

Bianca Juarez Olthoff

Bianca Juarez Olthoff is a lover of words and stories. Passionate about creating beautiful things, she spends her week working as Chief Storyteller for The A21 Campaign and Creative Director for Propel Women.  You can follow Bianca on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


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