Oh, Ambition

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Archived from the week of 5/21/18 @ The Guilde:

Most women are ambivalent about ambition.

 
After all, it tends to be a compliment for men and a critique of women in our culture. An ambitious woman is readily associated with being aggressive, bitchy, power-hungry, overbearing, unlikeable, egotistical, masculine, ruthless, abrasive, difficult, “out for herself,” dominant, selfish, arrogant, competitive, pushy, grasping, and the list goes on . . . .
 
While we may honor the gravitas of a woman who has arrived as a leader or success story, we do not as a society at large honor and appreciate women for openly pursuing and striving for their goals –- the process part that is inherent to ambition and mastery.
 
Ambition is the paradox at the heart of feminism.
 
If feminism is about the freedom to choose your own path, to write your own script, and to succeed on your own terms, we as feminists should truly prize a woman with the fire in her gut that is ambition. We should want to be that woman.
 
And in fact, the definition of ambition is not pejorative. It is simply a strong desire to do or achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work. Nothing ugly about that, right?
 
But as writer Jill Filipovic points out, ambition in a woman is suspect because it breaks a certain expectation of femininity that still courses through our highly socialized veins. In 2018, there is still a way in which femininity is tied to serving and caring for others, nurturing others’ ambitions, and being the last one to eat at the table.
 
There are also practical obstacles to our ambition. If you consider the focus, drive and commitment that ambition requires, a woman’s ambition is often hampered by the decisions and roles she plays out in her lifetime, as well as society’s lack of infrastructure to support those roles. Indeed, it’s common for women to feel like they suffer from a lack of ambition due to the competing demands on their lives.
 
Does it matter? We think it does, for two reasons. (1) Women suffer over their own ambition. In a recent study, 59% of women expressed regret for not having been more ambitious. (2) The world needs women to be ambitious. As good ‘ole Greek philosopher Heraclitus said in the 6th century B.C., “Big results require big ambitions.” And the world is calling on us to deliver some very big results.
 
So, what’s a woman to do?
 
We think it’s time for us to rethink, reframe and reclaim ambition for ourselves as women.
 
What if we saw ambition as our birthright? As something beautiful, simple, pure and even feminine: our own desire to create something and commit ourselves fully to the creation of it. Not selfish, not self-serving, but self-valuing.
 
What if we saw ambition as a form of our caretaking, service, and humanity? What if we connected our ambition to wanting to do more and better for our families, our communities and our world? To have the impact only we can have.
 
What if we embraced ambition as a state of being, choosing to believe fully in our own purpose, abilities, and vision, no matter our timeline?

What if we gave ourselves the time and permission to identify the sources of our ambition as well as the ways our personal values and timelines intersect with it?  

What if we gave ourselves permission and time to identify what truly inspires ambition in us, independent of the world's norms, metrics, and timelines, and then threw ourselves into the pursuit of it, on the terms that work for us? 
 
What if we remembered that ambition can be patient? That we can mindfully and strategically engage and re-engage ambition throughout our lifetimes, laying it down for a time and returning when ready.  
 
What if we demanded and became an unstoppable force for creating a better infrastructure, heralding in a design of work and culture that truly accommodates the reality of women’s roles and women’s ambition?
 
And finally, at the risk of sounding like a broken record here, what if we as women came to honor another woman’s ambition as something to be prized, celebrated, and imprinted upon –- a proof of the greatness that resides in us all?
 
To your ambition,
Dana & Kristan