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A Quick Note About Ambition and Women

There’s a very telling Quaker saying that goes like this: That friend speaks my mind.

That’s what this note it is. A nod to Lianne Raymond, a friend who speaks my mind…and often changes it. Two of her essays shifted me away from the popularity contest and back to my work. I was dithering, now I’m writing a book. My friends speaks my mind and helps me finally speak it, myself.

I am wildly ambitious. Like, it would embarrass both of us if I tell you what I know I will accomplish in the next two years, five years, 10 years – especially since I’m writing this-here missive courtesy of my overdraft. Let’s just say my imaginary NY Times bestseller is only the start mwahahahaha. There will be gold coins. There will probably be gold lamé pants. There will definitely be appearances and sightings. (And citings!)

All of these things are trophies. That’s ambition: the desire to collect trophies, which is to say, the external offerings and rewards that come with doing great work.

I think it’s fine to be ambitious. I think it’s only women in our culture who are shamed for being ambitious and fuck that noise. It’s good to want. It’s great to desire. It’s excellent to go get yours. It can be a feminist act to be unapologetically ambitious and take your sisters with you as you rise.

(Can be. But not always, and definitely not if you’re preying on people to get yours and then, when you finally break through, slamming the door behind you.)

Incidentally: it irritates me that we have to feminize ambition in order to make it palatable, either to ourselves or to our audience. “Glam/bition” – seriously?

Related. When we make up portmanteaus like this or phrases like girl boss, it seems to me that what we’re saying is “look at me: I’m pretty and girly and I dig masculine things like money”. That’s messed up and here’s why: because it reinforces two traditional gender stereotypes, both of which, in my feminist opinion, we should be trying to destabilize. Women don’t have to be pretty (and many, many MANY of us never will be or don’t want to be. Doesn’t mean we’re not women and don’t have worth). Men don’t have to be ambitious. Ambition isn’t masculine. It’s human.

Actualization, on the other hand, is doing good work that serves your growth which then in turn allows you to do even greater work. Actualization doesn’t require trophies. It requires devotion.

Ambition can get in the way of actualization. If you enter the pageant so that you have a megaphone for your message, but then you start digging the sashes and crowns, you might hesitate to tell the truth on stage – and telling that truth was the point.

Ashley Callingbull, for example, did not hesitate. A week after she was crowned Mrs. Universe, she urged Canadians to vote out conservative leader Stephen Harper (we did); and, since then, she has spoken fiercely and frequently for justice for Aboriginal peoples. When people said it was unseemly for a beauty queen to comment on politics, she replied, “Did you really think I was going to just sit there and look pretty? Definitely not. I have a title, a platform and a voice to make change and bring awareness to First Nations issues here in Canada.” YES.

Paradoxically, ambition can serve actualization. The more trophies you have, the more credibility you have, and credibility buys you air time. The bigger your platform and social media channels, the more impact your work will have with the people you most want to serve.

The trick, then, is to train your ambition. Like it’s a dragon. 

Because it is. It can breathe fire indiscriminately and scorch the earth, or it can be directed.

Direct it up. Always kick up.

And please read Lianne Raymond’s two essays on ambition and actualization. Any time I’m talking about ambition and actualization, I’m talking about her.

  1. are you swimming in ambition – or are you drowning in it? – by Lianne Raymond

  2. waving or drowning – part two – by Lianne Raymond


Kelly Diels teaches culture-making entrepreneurs & creators how to develop a substantial body of work that changes EVERYTHING -- your life, your industry, our world. (AKA Thought leadership for people who cringe at the phrase "thought leader".)  Her Sunday Love Letter can help you surface *your* unique method, step by step, week after week. www.kellydiels.com/subscribe

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