Ambition is not a dirty word.
It seems one popular female author and speaker after another is commenting on the type of women we should all aim to be. This morning I saw yet another repost of a quote on the dangers and pitfalls of ambition in women. I was angry to the point of spitting and simultaneously so sad. Angry, because I don’t think it’s helpful to make sweeping generalizations about all kinds of ambition and all kinds of women. Sad, because this person has a powerful platform and voice for women all over the world, and I believe this message is a disservice that plays deeply into the narrative many of us grew up with.
Can ambition be dangerous? Absolutely! I’ve spoken at length about my own struggles with becoming a workaholic, so I know how unhealthy that can be. But ambition as a whole? To call it out as utterly wrong feels shortsighted and counter to the call to live into who we were all made to be.
It’s important to note the comment wasn’t directed toward men. We need to start having a very real conversation about why we accept truths about ourselves as women that we would never consider for men. If it’s not true for everyone, then it shouldn’t be true for anyone.
I get that many people believe differently. I get that, depending on where or how you were raised, the idea that we shouldn’t hold ourselves to a different standard can seem downright heretical. But just consider it for a minute. When a man wants to push himself in his career, his fitness, his faith, his education, or anything else, this is considered an asset. We want those kinds of people leading our businesses, our churches, or our governments. Ambitious people work to learn more, do more, grow more, and typically they create opportunity for the people around them to do the same. But that’s not okay for a woman?
We need to get past the idea that certain rules only apply to certain people at particular life stages.
My sister- in- law Heather has been a teacher for the last eighteen years. She got her master’s in school counseling, all while being an outstanding leader in education and a champion for the children in her care. That desire to learn more about her work so she can be more effective at it— that’s ambition, and it shouldn’t be any less admirable in her than it would be in her brothers.
My friend Susan is leading the charge in foster- care reformation. She’s changing the way we love on children in care and surround foster parents with the support they need to do this work. She has ambition to open branches of her organization in every city in the United States, to make sure every child in foster care feels loved and known and seen, and to make sure not one more child ages out of the system, ever. It’s grandiose and audacious. Her brand of ambition will change the world.
Another girlfriend is a stay- at- home mom who struggled for years with her weight and her self- image. Eighteen months ago, she signed up for her first 10K; her ambition was to make it to the finish line. After she conquered that race, she signed up for a half marathon. She finished the half marathon and will complete her first full later this fall. Her ambition wasn’t to be a CEO or make a million dollars; her ambition was to get fit and healthy so she could be a better woman for herself and mama for her kids. Her kind of ambition changed the family dynamic in her home and the way she looks at life.
Ambition is not a bad thing.
In fact, the definition is downright poetic: “a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.”
If it weren’t for my ambition and determination to create content that would encourage other women, you wouldn’t be sitting there reading this. Chances are you’re here because you’re getting something out of it. But there wouldn’t be anything for you to consume if I hadn’t been ambitious about writing it in the first place.
So much of the time, though, we can see ambition as a good thing only until it’s our own, right? It’s never really other people’s ambition that bothers us. It’s our own that feels scary.
What would they think of me if they knew this was my dream? We don’t care about what they think, remember?
Well, what if I get too ambitious and obsessive? Why don’t we worry about things that are actually happening instead of possible somedays?
Okay, but what if I do go crazy and chase my dream to the detriment of my family and my relationships? Crap, sister, me or someone else who loves you will come over and knock some sense into you! Are you really not allowing yourself to pursue something because of a bunch of made- up possibilities?
Scratch that. Of course you are. You’re scared, and I understand what it is to be scared of the unknown. But you’re not going to achieve anything if you don’t get comfortable with the idea of achievement.
Do you have a goal or a dream? Are you trying to chase something down? Then you better get well acquainted with the idea of ambition. You need to adopt a posture of striving to grow in the ways that matter to your goals. Ambition looks like waking up early; it looks like working after the kids are in bed. Ambition looks like adopting a willingness to admit to the things you don’t know and asking for help or doing the research or becoming your own best mentor. Ambition looks like you living in a way others won’t, so you will have a life others can’t. Are you ready to own your ambition?
Taken from Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals by Rachel Hollis Copyright © 2019 by Rachel Hollis. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.