Shortly after we’ve entered January of each new year, I hear a common lament from women clients, colleagues, and friends.
Here’s one version (substitute in your own story and details):
“Debra, help. What should I do? Last year, I vowed to be in a very different place professionally by year’s end. I planned to get advanced certification. To network and float my resume. I got distracted planning my wedding. After that, I back-burnered career goals to train for a half-marathon. Then, I decided to spend more time volunteering in my second-grader’s classroom vs. going after that new dream client—I’m making enough to get by, so why be greedy? There’s always spring, or summer—I’ll get around to my career goals. They’ll wait.
“Fast-forward to Jan. 2008. Here I am, still stuck doing work I hate, my ambitious dreams in limbo. What’s my problem?”
Sound familiar? Yes, I know. As an ambitious woman with ever-changing and competing professional and personal priorities myself, this also, at times, rings true for me. Sure, I’m the expert on women and ambition; nevertheless, I’m right there with you.
It has been said that "The surest way to keep a man in prison is not to let him know he's there." And the surest way to keep a woman from embracing her pure career ambition is to make her believe she's already done it.
Don't believe it.
Do you unconsciously buy into our prevailing cultural paradigm: Ambitious men are go-getters; ambitious women are bitches?
If your answer is yes, you’re in good company.
High-achieving women of all ages struggle with socially sanctioned failure to embrace our ambition. We have the same pernicious audio loop playing between our ears: Will being as ambitious as I dream of being make me less of a woman? Can I? Dare I? Have I gone too far? Will it cost me a personal life? Will it make those I care about suffer? Will my ambition repel my partner, or keep me from connecting with my soul mate? Is it wrong to care as much about recognition and making money as I do about making a contribution? Am I greedy if I fight for professional credit I’ve earned? Will I make enemies? Will my passion for my career dreams bite me in the a__, somehow, someday? Is it impossible to be ambitious and happy?
As high-achieving women, we all struggle with these fears. We’ve all been brought to our knees; we know how hard, how impossible it seems at times to stay true to our ambition while tending to our other sacrosanct priorities.
My question to you -- to us as ambitious women -- is this:
How can we, as women, take seriously the necessary soul-searching required to discover what we were meant to do professionally when we never explicitly discuss our pure, unadulterated ambition? When we’re spoon-fed a culturally acceptable, watered-down definition of “female” success: that we don’t need to be as ambitious as the men in our lives, that we're successful if we master/achieve the work-life balance equation -- even if that means giving up some of our precious career dreams?
Don’t believe it.