I still recall the day at work I got called the A-word.
No, not that A-word.
The other one.
The one that should be a good thing.
That is a good thing.
But was said in a way that made it clear it was anything but a good thing.
“You’re so… (insert momentary sneering pause here)...ambitious.”
Accolade? Or insult?
It wasn’t the first time I’d been labeled with that scarlet letter A.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be so ambitious,” is what a former boss suggested would make me happier at work. That’s now on my list of the Worst Advice I’ve Ever Received.
“Everyone knows how ambitious you are,” noted a colleague, with that same slight undertone. Clearly, I was carrying quite a reputation.
How dare I be ambitious!
Settle down, lady. Stop striving. Just do what you’re told. How about you take the notes at this meeting. Yes, you, again. Greg’s not good at this kind of thing, Fred forgot his laptop and Harry is hungover and could use a coffee. Would you mind grabbing one for each of us? And while you’re at it, smile more. You seem angry and that makes people not like you. Thanks so much. You’re such a team player.
Sorry, I digress… I got a little lost in (old, unhelpful) thought.
Why are we so quick to judge ambitious women? Shouldn’t we be applauding that ambition?
After all, aren’t we supposed to LEAN IN, ASK for what we’re worth, INSIST on a seat at the table, be BRAVE and SPEAK UP?
Be confident, but not too confident or you’ll be seen as self-serving.
We acknowledge, applaud and reward ambitious men while we label similarly ambitious women as selfish and untrustworthy.
It creates an impossible and unfair double-standard.
In the work I do now, presenting keynotes and workshops for high achievers ready to ascend the leadership ladder, I frequently hear this frustration from women in the audience.
They are smart, talented, hard-working women told to desire more. They want and deserve more. And then find themselves unfairly judged for doing so.
And it starts with how we view ambition.
Ambition is not merely a means to a promotion, a title or higher pay, even though all of those things are just rewards for work well done.
Ambition is working towards WHAT’S NEXT, never being satisfied with the status quo or settling.
Ambition is INNER DRIVE. It keeps the engine running when others would put it in park or stall out.
Ambition is MOTIVATION. It’s wanting to exceed expectations rather than just meet them.
Ambition is PROGRESS. It’s the feeling that there’s more to do, to achieve and to be.
Ambition is MASTERY. It’s the will to learn new skills and practice them.
Ambition is GROWTH. It’s continual improvement, knowledge and experience.
Ambition is DESIRE. It’s the vision of a future that’s bigger than the present.
Ambition is CHANGE. It’s the willingness to proceed in the face of uncertainty and challenge and transform people and processes on the way.
Ambition is INSPIRED and INSPIRING. It’s the example that sets the bar for others to embrace.
Ambition is IMPACT. It’s doing work that MATTERS and to being and serving of importance to others.
Ambition is ADMIRABLE. It should be acknowledged and encouraged.
And when you demonstrate all of that, ambition is worthy of reward in recognition and compensation.
Perhaps I’m overly ambitious in thinking this article may change how people view ambitious women.
But if you see them any other way and judge them for it perhaps you’re the A-word here.
And I don’t mean ambitious.
Valerie Gordon is an award-winning television producer, lifelong storyteller and the founder of career and communications strategy firm Commander-in-She. Her workshops help high-achieving women with the personal branding and story skills to advance their careers on their own terms. Read what clients are saying.