Since Reese Witherspoon's incredible Gamour Woman of the Year Speech on Ambition is making the rounds, I thought I'd re-share this article I wrote a few years ago on ambition. A lot of women have trouble owning up to it, even if they feel it in their bones because it seems to carry a negative connotation when combined with twin X chromosomes. Are you an ambitious woman? Are you afraid to say it for fear that people will view you as stuck up or harsh? Ambition in women doesn't look like a bunch of deadpan, cold-hearted ice queens climbing their way to the top. In fact, I've found it looks much different. It looks like your best friend laughing so hard she cries. It looks like sisters hugging. It looks like the women in that photo above. Grab your coffee, read on, and discuss...
The other day I read an absolutely fascinating article in Elle magazine by Leslie Bennet about ambition. The reason the article was so fascinating to me was because ambition was termed "the scarlet A". Bennet goes on to say that in all her years interviewing powerful and successful women from media moguls to princesses only one has ever described herself as "ambitious". That is not to say that the other interviewees were not ambitious, Bennet describes some of them as "barracudas whose appetite for power would make Machiavelli look like a pushover". I'd say that's pretty ambitious wouldn't you? So why wouldn't they describe themselves as such?
I have found myself battling this very same issue. Even writing this blog post was a bit scary. Will they think I'm conceited? Will I sound like a bitch? Who am I to even call myself successful? Call it a woman thing. Call it gender bias (call it that because it is) but for a woman to boldly claim her ambition for success and then take credit for that success is a rare thing. Why? Because research shows that women are condemned for traits that their male counterparts are praised for. Ambition being one of them.
I'm not the only one fumbling and stumbling over the verbiage. Hugely influential and powerful women stumble over this issue, at least in front of the public anyway. Oprah, Condoleeza Rice, and Hillary Clinton have all deflected when asked about their amazingness in interviews. (And I doubt anyone would question their successes.)
I see this even more among my female coaching peers. Ambition and "helping others" are words that are not allowed to fraternize. And yet, like Romeo and Juliet the two sneak off in the shadows and make all kinds of sweet and romantic plans in our minds. We pine away behind our computers, notepads, challenge groups, trainings, blogs, and you tube channels with big dreams dancing around in our minds. AMBITION. We make vision boards. AMBITION. We make goal lists. AMBITION. We write that shit down people! AMBITION. We spend countless hours trying to make something successful from our budding coaching careers. We pour our souls into it. We cry. We sometimes bleed. And then... glory of glories... we achieve it (whatever it is in your life) and then we so quickly forget our toiling and call it coincidence or worse, "luck". We deflect. We give credit to everyone and everything else except for us. It's tragic. It's unfair.
Think about it for a minute... when someone asks you how you achieved the success you have what do you say? Luck? God? A random string of ridiculously fortunate events? Why are we so quick to refuse ownership of our achievements? Have we not come far enough yet to admit publicly that YES we set big goals, YES we worked our asses off, and YES we achieved those things. Victory dance!
Self effacement is not the same thing as humility. You can claim your kick ass-ness with a humble heart. In fact, you should. Because the world needs more confident movers and shakers. The problem is not that the doors are not open, the problem is that we are waiting for something else to push us through them so that we don't have to say we did it ourselves. I will be the first to admit that I am hugely ambitious. I have lofty goals and I plan on achieving all of them. And when I do, I will be the first to tell you that while a bit of luck was surely involved, I worked very hard to get there. (Thank you to my husband, my parents, my dog, my friends, my mentors, my clients, etc...) If you hate me because of that last statement then so be it. You can send hate mail to my future personal assistant. I'll be too busy basking in my dream life to read it. (Told you I had lofty goals!) Be bold my beloved friends. As Goethe says, "Boldness has genius and power and magic in it."