Ambition. On the night when a woman ascended to the second-highest position in the land, a group of multigenerational women joined together to discuss the word AMBITION. Just before we hopped on the Zoom, I heard a radio report reminding that the President had been warned that Vice President Harris was ‘too ambitious’ to be his running mate. Too ambitious. Ambition as a negative. Ambition as a deterrent to consideration and choice.
As the group discussed ambition and what it meant to each participant, we started to coalesce around the very personal nature of the word: ambition changed based on where we were in our lives; it was still there but less or more so in relation to other life events. Ambition was personal.
We also pondered whether ambition was viewed differently for men and women. As mothers of both girls and boys in the group, we talked about the messages we sent and that society sent as to a person’s ambition and what that might do to our children as they made life choices.
Organizations that value ambition tend to qualify it as an upward aspiration – climbing the ladder, ascending toward the C-Suite – and not as depth or breadth of advancement. I am reminded of an article I wrote on a similar topic a few years ago.
An employee or volunteer that has ambition to be the best in their field, can be equally ambitious (and easier to satisfy) than someone who sees their only path as one that ascends. How valuable and loyal is an employee that finds fulfillment in the work they are doing, projects that they feel confident in contributing to, rather than one that is always pushing past what is right in front of them. It is important to discuss what success looks like with each employee so as not to project onto them your vision. Understanding where they want to go allows you to support and create opportunities rather than investing energy where it doesn’t hit the mark.
Back to the discussion group on ambition. As we talked, a member of the group looked up the antonym of ambition. Among the words listed were contentment and moderating. As antonyms; opposites. That is disconcerting. Is the insinuation that you are not content if you are ambitious? Maybe, but why couldn’t I be content IN and WITH my ambition – satisfied that I want more, that I am continuously seeking something greater? Why must I moderate OR be ambitious?
In the end, as a group, we agreed that:
Ambition is personal and subject to change.
It is important to be clear on where you are on the continuum and to share your vision of ambition with those that can support you and create opportunities.
We want everyone – women, men, boys, and girls – to be ambitious in the ways that fill them up and challenge them to do and be their best.
Don't use ambition in a derogatory way that stifles potential.
Be ambitious. You do you. And we’ll be here to cheer you on.