The one in which I consider my place in things…

A few days ago, in conversation, someone called me ambitious. She was not being unkind and yet my instinctual reaction was to recoil in horror from the tag.

I do not think of myself as ambitious and that’s because in my internal thesaurus the word is interchangeable with ‘ruthless’, ‘isolated’ and ‘power-hungry’. I do not like to think I am any of those things although I concede I am competitive in petty things, despite it not being one of my best traits.

No, ‘amitious’ was a dangerous and unwanted quality. It was Lady Macbeth, the Iron Lady, power shoulders and making a million before 9am. It’s drop-kicking kittens on your endless pursuit of getting to the top. It’s shunning femininity and motherhood and being unkind. It is a prison of your own making that cuts you off from others and locks you onto a set course.

As my denials of ambition derailed the conversation it was explained she meant I was ‘career focused’ and yet this too, seemed to be negative to my ears. Why? Surely recognising that someone is dedicated to their work, passionate about their path and (mostly) joyful in their job it is a compliment?

As I’ve thought about this remark over the last few days it’s occured to me that ‘ambitious’ bothers me on a personal level too. It seems, in my mind, completely divorced from being a wife and mother and suggests that those roles, those people, are less important to me than a career (which they’re not, it’s just a different part of my life, of me). This thought often ends up on the merry-go-round of ‘can women really have it all’.

Why do I associate ‘ambition’ with ‘isolation’? Again, because it feels like I shouldn’t do well in a career as well as have a happy family life so I am either isolated from my husband and children or from my peers. Because it feels as if by being ambitious I would lose friends, or be screwing over the sisterhood or being somehow less of a woman…

In trying to settle my mind on why it bothered me so much I turn, as usual, to the interwebs for solace, to not feel I am alone in my discomfort with the label.

I read this wonderful article on Brainstorm about Ambitious Women and recognised my feelings in many of the words and I found this quote from John D Rockerfeller which sums up my approach to work-life:

““I had no ambition to make a fortune. Mere money-making has never been my goal, I had an ambition to build. ”

Between these two I’ve actually managed to stop feeling ‘ambitious’ is such a bad label. Today, I sort of rejoice. The very fact I can be seen as ambitious means I am free. I am not constrained by my gender as my female ancesters would have been, or as other women around the world still are because of the regime they live under. No, my birthplace, my generation, my family, my upbringing, and my education all make me free ( alas, my generation also makes a small voice at the back of my mind throw up the victory sign and shriek ‘girl power’ at this point).

I’m working on re-writing my internal thesaurus so ‘ambitious’ becomes interchangeable with ‘determination’, ‘freedom’ and ‘learning’, an altogether more positive way to view the label.

* I’m a little early but I’ve tagged this post with ‘International Womens Day‘ which is on 8 March this year. It seemed to fit better with that than anything else!


3 thoughts on “Cannibal ambition

  1. Thanks Phil – only just got a chance to read your post! It is funny how things can be rumbling around our sub-conscious and deep memory for so long before something or someone happens to trigger retreival. Everything is learning but not everything is immediate. Interesting that in both posts what feels initially like an insult actually turns out to have a positive bit of insight and reflection hidden in its barbs. thanks for sharing your story 🙂

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