What does ambition mean to you? Do you consider yourself ambitious? Have you ever said it out loud?
Some of you perked up, sat straighter in your chairs and said aloud, “Hell yeah! I eat ambition for breakfast and pour a little in my coffee while I accomplish 17 things before 10 am!” While others quietly thought, “I don’t think this post is for me.”
Please don’t go yet!
I get it. We don’t really teach girls to embrace the word ambition. It’s brazen and raw. It takes an aggressive stance. Truthfully, it still tastes a little funny coming out of my mouth. We feel it’s (dare I say it) masculine. As women, we’re taught to care for and about others and ambition can feels a little selfish. Maybe we’re shy, or not sure how our ideas will be perceived.
I recently read some fantastic insight on this in Kirstine Stewart’s book, “Our Turn”:
“In the workplace, I’ve been able to overcome shyness by defining it for what it is – a kind of self-indulgence. To be shy or too quiet in work situations means you hide who you are and, more significantly, hide what you think and what you know. By not speaking up you also abdicate contributing to the group. And that means you’re actually not doing your job.”
We don’t typically think of shyness as selfish but it’s freaking hard to fully embrace ambition without this perspective (More on this in a future post).
Early in my career, I was lucky to work for a woman who did. Judy Elder was a force for women’s empowerment and a leader in the male-dominated fields of advertising and tech.
Sadly, Judy died in 2002, just a few weeks after giving an inspiring speech called “Mothers, Fathers, Men, Ambition”. My career path has been very different from Judy’s, but her story continues to inspire me. I’ve shared her speech with almost every young woman I’ve worked with, but it’s only now I’m piecing together everything it has meant to me, and how that meaning has evolved over the years.
This paragraph inspired me recently:
An early boss and long time mentor told me once that, “People never get anywhere unless someone wants them to”. Translation: organizational ambition requires that others be ambitious for you. I happen to believe that if you win for others along with yourself you will be rewarded with ongoing support and loyalty and that loyalty will transfer from organization to organization, whether by reputation or, the truly to be cherished, people willing to follow you to other places.”
She was talking about climbing the corporate ladder, but this line has legs for so many other situations.
I didn’t relate to this quote until this year. But with hindsight, I can now recognize times when she was being ambitious for me. Occasions when she said, “You’re on the right track,” or “Have you thought about what’s next for you?” Or talked to me about the next job up, even when I wasn’t sure I wanted it yet. That’s what being ambitious for each other is about!
At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate the ambition she had for me, probably because it didn’t match mine. But we fool ourselves into thinking we don’t have ambitions, or that ambition isn’t for us, when we think it’s all about money or C-suite corner offices.
Goals don’t have to involve world domination to be ambitions.
If you have a passion for helping others, be ambitious in your volunteer work! If you’re an artist and want to perfect your techniques, that’s your ambition! It’s about adding actions to your goals and dreams.
We still need more examples of women succeeding in their ambitions. More opportunities to “see it, so they can be it”.
Ambition is a word that’s meant for us. In fact, in French, “ambition” is a feminine noun. So let’s take it back. It’s about knowing our true wants/needs/goals, making ideas better, and helping people be and achieve their best.
What could be wrong with a word like that? The more we use it, the more comfortable it’ll become. I ask every guest on my podcast to tell us how they relate to it, and to be ambitious for another woman. It’s one of my favourite parts of every interview and my guests typically light up at the opportunity to share about a woman they admire and want to help.
Let me know in the comments….did this post freak you out? Or are you totally ready to walk your ambitious talk? Tell me about someone who was ambitious for you or give a shout out to a woman you know who’s an ambitious superstar.
If you’re ready to own your ambition but aren’t sure where to start, contact me for a free 30-minute coaching session to see how working with me can help you figure it out.
Let’s all #beambitiousforher™