Ambition and the Successful Woman

Thumbnail image for woman climbing mountainHere’s the news from our guest blogger, the intrepid life-journeywoman Lillian Hunter:

I picked it up and looked at it. I wanted to put it back down, but I couldn’t. I dread reading any of them, but I am drawn like a moth to the flame. Whether it’s published in Austin Woman, New York Times, or Austin American-Statesman, the “successful woman” article brings up unpleasant emotions for me.

You know you read them, too. Each one begins something like this: “Nancy Smith was recently promoted to CEO of the Big-Name global corporation.” That’s followed by a glowing biography or glorified resume chock full of amazing credentials. You get a photo, and then an interview or announcement–or both! Nancy tells us something like, “I started out as a file clerk, and now I am CEO of this Big-Name global corporation.”

I would like to say I celebrate the success of women like Nancy, but, if I’m honest, I don’t. Mostly, I just feel inadequate. I compare where I am in my career with where she is in her career, and it’s clear: I have failed.

Why do I let Nancy’s success make me feel inferior? Some of it is cultural. We are bombarded with stories of “success,” and we glorify those who are materially successful. They’re the ones who get the accolades and respect in the news and community.

How do I come to terms with where I am? I don’t think I am less smart or less energetic than Nancy. But I am less ambitious. I’d love to have the money and prestige, but I wouldn’t want to do the work it takes to get there or to maintain that standing. It takes too much intense energy and sacrifice.

If I had been more conscious of my career choices when I was young, I would be more satisfied with where I am now. But when I was young, my professional goals were largely unconscious. I saw my career as a way to support my family, and nothing more. Looking back, I see that I accomplished exactly what I set out to do. Nothing more, nothing less. I stuck to my original goal, I achieved what I set out to do, and now I’m unhappy with that achievement.

Perhaps I should have been more careful in setting my goals or revisited my goals as time went on, but I didn’t. I missed out on professional opportunities along the way, because I didn’t make them a priority. Maybe it was my generation. It was OK for us women to work outside the home to support a family, but nothing more.

I am never going to reach Nancy’s heights in the business world. I am working on coming to terms with that fact. I’ll let you know how that goes. In the meantime, I am going to celebrate other people’s success. It’s a good place to start.

Moreover, I am going to set some new goals for myself, whatever they may be. And I’ll start celebrating my own success, even though it may never sound like a “successful woman” article in the New York Times.

(Click here to read more from Lillian’s blog, “The Roads Not Travelled.”)

(Let’s keep in touch! Click here to get my updates.)

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