At the recent Johns Hopkins Women’s Leadership Conference, Desiree Younge, the Vice President of Programs for the Tory Burch Foundation set a powerful tone in the opening session by speaking about the event theme, authenticity. She said that authenticity begins by telling yourself “I am enough. I am clear about who I am.” Her next words align with my work on ambition: “you don’t need a certain title to define yourself as a leader.”
Later I led a workshop that keyed off my book, and I began by asking each woman to write her definition of an ambitious woman. Interestingly, there was no mention of the C-Suite. No mention of being at the top of a corporation, a business or a government entity. And there was no reference to “leaning in”.
Instead, in a room full of impressive and interesting professional women, there were refreshingly honest and pragmatic definitions that encompass both work and life.
Here’s a sampling of their wisdom.
An ambitious woman is…
“…pursuing purpose in every area of life and looks to achieve greater personal growth each day. She pursues her passion and leaves a legacy for those coming behind her.”
“…clear about what she wants/needs in work and life and does whatever it takes to pursue her own goals.”
“…taking charge of creating the life she wants for herself.”
“…pursuing her own life goals without apprehension or apologies.”
“…striving to grow, improve, learn—and make positive changes for herself and others.”
“…pursuing goals to the end—even when it’s difficult.”
“…giving herself permission to do something different and balancing a personal sense of success with inner peace.”
“…striving to get to the next level personally and professionally based on her own goals.”
“…identifying a goal, desire or dream and positioning herself to achieve it through education, life lessons, and mentoring.”
“…pushing herself to reach her own creative and professional potential, alongside caregiving roles.”
“…going after her dreams and new ideas that she is passionate about while working hard to balance work and family.”
“…fueling her soul with passion projects.”
“…steadfastly believing in herself and not giving up on her dreams.”
And what’s my own definition of an ambitious woman? As I say in my book, Ambition Redefined, an ambitious woman is ANY woman who finds a flexible way to blend work and family, always building her own and her family’s long-term financial security—and insuring against life you never knows.
What’s clear in all these definitions is that women believe that ambition means setting your own personal and professional goals—they don’t feel bound by expectations that women should want to reach the top of the career ladder for themselves—or for the sisterhood. In the workshop discussions I heard a great deal of affirmation for my belief that up is not the only way forward for women.
In the end, women can lift each other by sharing strategies for blending work and life, supporting many career paths and work structures and recognizing that there are many definitions of ambition and success.
Now, what’s your definition of an ambitious woman? Share your wisdom, too!
Learn more about how women define ambition and the many different flexwork options women have today in my book, Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead. You can also learn about flexwork trends and opportunities in my newsletter: sign up here and you’ll receive my free guide, “6 Flexible Work Options: Which One is Right for You?”