A former boss called me today to ask me if he had been played for a fool. An intern had asked him how to get ahead. So he told her. He gave her some tips and advised her to set up weekly meetings to get ongoing feedback. The other interns resented that this woman was getting so much attention from the boss. They minded her ambition. Eventually they claimed she used my former boss to get ahead and then quickly moved on to bigger and better things. She's now doing an internship with a prestigious media company in New York.
So, let me just put it out there: Is ambition a bad thing? Was this woman doing something wrong?
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about ambition. Mostly, because I just read an article in Time Magazine about why ambition isn't working for women.
If you called me ambitious, I wouldn't know whether to accept it as a compliment, or take it as an insult.
In the Times article, author Stephanie Clifford says, "When you say ambitious woman, there's a judgy tinge to it that doesn't happen for men. If all you hear about a woman is that she is ambitious, you probably wouldn't want to hang out with her.
Here's what Savannah Gutherie said about ambition: "I hate the word. I think it’s impolite.”
Recently, I saw an interview with Elizabeth Holmes, the young founder of Theranos, a blood diagnostics company. Holmes is often called the next Steve Jobs. She runs a $9 billion company and spends all her time running the business. Wow, I thought, she has built a 9 million business and she's only 31. By every account, she's ambitious and I admire that. Yet, a small part of me thought, "how sad. She has no outside life. Maybe she's too ambitious."
Yes, I know I was being judgy but the truth is most people are judgy of women who give it all up to pursue their careers because it's something we haven't become comfortable with yet. American corporate life is set up in a way that makes it very hard for women to feel successful both at home and at work. Which is increasingly why women are foregoing family life.
A lot of us are struggling to figure out what a good life means and where ambition fits in. In a Time poll, men were more likely than women to say they would still work even if they were independently wealthy and did not need a job to support themselves and their families. Men still get more of their identity from what they do and I think ambition is part of that.
I'd like to think the definition of ambition is changing for men and women.
Psychology Today says: A person is not truly ambitious unless he is willing to make sacrifices in the name of his ambition—even though the end of his ambition may not be worth his sacrifices.
Does ambition take sacrifice? I'd say it does. But that's not a bad thing. Life is about choices. I'm just hoping we get to the point where people can be considered ambitious for their parental choices too, for trying to create a great family life and pursue a career-- whether or not they sit in the corner office!
What are your thoughts on ambition? Is ambition more acceptable in men?