I like working with ambitious women. I admire their drive and find their presence energizing. These women are FUN to coach because they really want to go places. Given that so many of my clients characterize themselves as ambitious, I decided to modify my tagline to better reflect what I do; “Dedicated to the advancement of ambitious women”.
So you can imagine my suprise when one of my private coaching clients today remarked that the word “ambitious” had a negative connotation for her. Interesting….because over the almost 2 years we have been working together, I consider her one of the most ambitious women I know. She is frequently thinking about her next career move and seizes many opportunities for professional growth. And yet, when I asked her to compile a career plan for herself on paper that clarified her 1) mission statement, 2) major carer goals, 3) skills audit 4) action plan, she was downright uncomfortable with how ambitious it looked. She couldn’t help feeling that owning and exploiting one’s ambition is more of a male quality. She felt that women who are ambitious tend to be looked at in a different, and often more negative, way than ambitious men.
And she is not entirely wrong. At Barnard’s Commencement this week, Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook and mom of 2) talks about this cultural bias and sites several studies to back it up. But she then goes on to argue that ambition is a good thing and pleads with the Class of 2011 to maintain their ambition, even as their careers take twists and turns as women’s’ careers tend to do. She makes the case that, more than ever, the world needs women who are willing to identify their gifts and passions and then go for it. She believes that until we close the ambition gap, we will not close the achievement gap that keeps women from running more corporations and governments.
Back to my client…..as we continued to coach on the subject of ambition, she began to feel more at peace with her drive. The aha for her was that ambition is actually her friend. I asked “What is the risk of not having ambition?”, she easily replied “Stagnation. Boredom.” Ambition serves as the fuel that enables her to go after scary growth opportunities. It allows her to push through the temptation to stick with the easy, less risky, status quo. And isn’t that what makes life the wild adventure that it is?
Whether you are working in an organizational setting, running your own business or on-ramping back to paid work, how do you feel about ambition? Are you effectively using your ambition to fuel your next big leap?