“Why do people have prejudiced opinions about women who accomplish things? Why is that perceived as a negative? – Reese Witherspoon
In Australia, CGU’s ambition index revealed that 70% of those surveyed do not like to talk about ambition. How are we to push forward and be successful in business and in leadership when we hide our ambition?
We all have secrets. Something deep inside that we don’t share with anybody. For some it is a fear, for others a desire. Most people don’t let the little devil out to play. If you do it subjects you to vulnerability – and if that is something we all did, Brene Brown would have been out of work a long time ago. In business we see ambition as something that men are proud of and women are ridiculed for – for the most part.
Being a business owner takes work. Sure there can be rewards. Depending on what is behind your business, by that I mean your “why”, (see Simon Sinek if you don’t understand why this is important) the rewards can be small things that give you joy everyday, or they could be big things that might take a lifetime to achieve. The motivation and drive it takes can defeat those that are not emotionally connected to the reason the business was started in the first place.
So business success can be an elusive mistress.
Ambition is not so elusive. It is sitting right in front of me. So why don’t we, as women, share our ambition? The word has negative connotations for females and we need to change that. We are looked down on for lacking ambition but frowned upon for having it – so where do we lay? Total avoidance. Let’s take a look at some of the traits of ambitious people and see if we can change the perception of ambition.
The Journal of Process Management published these seven characteristics of an ambitious person:
Goals – consistent and active achievement of goals
Achievement motivation – strong desire for self-actualisation and self-development
Self-attitude – setbacks strengthen her desire to succeed
Attitude to Other People – dominant, kind-hearted, competitive
Attitude to Professional Activity – willing to work in your free time and weekends
Self-Regulation – emotionally stable, willing to take risks
Cognitive Characteristics – critical thinker, open minded, interest in problem solving
Anyone who has watched an episode of The Voice or Australia’s Got Talent will have seen contestant after contestant declare their passion for their craft. It seems that if they are not performing “from the heart” we can all see through that and don’t buy into it. In business the tradition has been to remove emotion from the board room. Feelings are something that consumers are allowed to have, but as providers we cannot. But this mindset is shifting.
The vacancy behind corporate money hunger is slowly being replaced by heart felt business – by women in business.
Being heartfelt and being ambitious are not mutually exclusive. They can work in congruence and in fact this is demonstrated by the women I listed at the beginning of this article.
For those of us who pursue our dream passion – we need to start owning our ambition. Bringing a life changing product or service into the lives of those that need it can be as powerful as a ballad, as fun as a pop song or as life changing as an Aria. So where are all the people who long to serve people in this way who are declaring their passion. Why aren’t we defying the odds when we are told no?
Perhaps by sharing with you this behind the scenes view of an ambitious woman in business you might understand this more. Working for yourself is hard – extremely rewarding, but hard. You might relate to this – particularly at the moment – but working from home can confuse your family.
The total lack of understanding of the hustle that goes into getting a new business off the ground can be totally deflating. Hearing my children say “What have you been doing all day Mum?” and “You’re always working!” and “What’s for dinner?” demonstrates the inherent stereotypes we battle as women. “Ask your father” doesn’t work because I am politely informed that Dad has been out at work all day – what the?
It’s an undeniable fight to reclaim ourselves as individuals once we become mothers.
I realise this is a generalisation – but it is true for far too many. My office is in the middle of our home. It can get messy with school notices and paperwork for two businesses. It is at the dividing point between the bedrooms and the living areas. I find this rather ironic because I like to work at night – not head off to bed, and although I can hear my family in the living area I often find myself saying that I will just finish this last thing and then I will step out of my office.
This is a room in which I spend far too much time sitting and not enough time moving – which is not good for your health. The truth of harboring ambition to be something more than a wife and mother is that at some point that desire either lifts you up or destroys you.
I fought my urge, my soul, for many years. I was raising a family and that is a full time job on its own. The work you do as a parent brings its own set of joys and fills your heart in ways you don’t expect. But if you have this other secret part and ignore it, the repercussions can impact you in any number of different ways. You may not be able to pinpoint just why you aren’t overjoyed with your life.
After a while, although you love your child/ren with all your heart, there is a part of you that is being ignored. For me I gained weight. I wasn’t paying attention to my own needs because before I knew it a few years had passed and I had five children to raise.
Each time I became involved in a community committee or helped someone with their business I felt as though I was given a small breath of air before being pulled back into the demands of family.
This is where I reached breaking point. I wanted more. I am capable of more. I invested in my education and longed for independence. I wanted my children to see that whatever they wanted in life they should work for and have. Whatever nourished their soul should not be put aside.
So I began to actively look for what made me happy. Exercise became a big part of finding out what was going on inside me. It gave me clarity and made me feel healthy and more confident.
I knew that happiness came from within, it wasn’t given to me by anybody else.
It was a slow reveal, not a moment where everything changed. The realisation was there that I needed to find my purpose for being here.
“It’s not wrong to be passionate about your career. When you love what you do, you bring that stimulation back to your family.” — Allison Pearson
I now recognise ambition in myself. Not in a ruthless Wall Street kind of way. My dreams for being successful involve making change, sharing knowledge and giving hope. Much like those contestants on The Voice right now, I want to make people feel something. I want them to want what it is they do. I am the coach that is listening to women who have or want to have a business and deciding if I will turn my chair for them. I want them all to be better, but sometimes they aren’t ready.
In real life, my house is filled with clothes horses because the washing won’t dry outside. My kitchen is usually a mess and sometimes I don’t make my bed in the rush to get to my desk. I lose track of time when I am learning, researching, writing and teaching. On the days when I coach women, I listen, brainstorm and fight to ensure that the light bulb moment is found in every session.
I need to give energy and inspiration to everyone I talk with otherwise I am not satisfied.
I find it hard to switch off because I have this secret inside me that knows it is going to take a lot more than just coasting through life to achieve what I am here to do. My day starts between 6 and 7am. My husband is an early riser, which suits me because it means I can get my laptop out and start work before I even get up in the morning. I get kids ready for school and then settle into my office (or lets be honest, sometimes back in bed with my laptop because it is so damn cold in Melbourne).
I get to know my clients and through our conversations I develop a plan of attack for how I can help them, what action they need to take and what obstacles could stop them moving forward. For every situation I need more than one answer. Why? Because there is always more than one question coming.
Whilst I am changing the world one business at a time, I run washing, get groceries, vacuum with the music pumping and clean the bathrooms. It is a juggling act. My calendar is finely tuned so that my work gets done, but as a Mum I know that I have to have a back up plan because family always throws unexpected things my way. The forgotten lunchbox, the sick child, and can you do this and that for me today!
Knowing why I am doing this and accepting my ambition instead of swallowing it every time it tries to rise up means that I am more content, more driven and more focused in all aspects of life.
“You had a purpose before anyone had an opinion.” – unknown.
Loving my business doesn’t make me any less of a Mum. I watch my son do his flips on the trampoline and I go for coffee with my friends or daughters, and I get a massage every now and then. These things aren’t distractions though, they are part of the reason. Will it be their life that improves because of something I achieve? Will it be their children that see the results of my efforts. Where my work will resound I don’t know, all I know is that my ambition is like that of a musician or a painter, I just express my creativity in a different way and hope it touches people in the way it is intended.
So I guess now my ambition to impact the world is not so secret. As a business coach I am acutely aware of the power of accountability – and here is mine. I am now accountable to every person that reads this. Whether you have a fear of failure or a desire to have your own business, taking the chance on yourself and getting help is never a mistake (as long as it is the right help). Don’t keep this a secret any longer.