5 min read

Can Bold Ambition Be a Feminine Quality?

Is it wrong or unfeminine for a woman to be boldly ambitious? Can you make your ambitions a fuel for self-realization? Here’s what Elena Dolinskaya, CEO of IMCP, has to say about it.

“Our company trains coaches worldwide, with a mission to impact a billion people through meaningful coaching conversations.”

We’re sure you agree that this is quite an ambitious goal.

The word “ambition” has a negative connotation for many people.

Ambition originates from the Latin word ambitiō, meaning a heightened ego. Modern dictionaries define ambition as the desire to succeed, to lead and win, and to prove one’s superiority.

Some believe the desire to strive for more and stand out is wrong, unbecoming, and even dangerous. Some may even go so far as to call ambition evil. Of course, the reasons for this perception lie in childhood.

A tendency to underestimate others and exalt their own merits is often attributed to ambitious people. It is not uncommon to even find advice on addressing this perceived character defect.

For example, I recently read an article online recommending that ambitious people identify their strengths and weaknesses by objectively assessing their work’s results and comparing them with others’ results.

Duh, I thought, thanking my brain for this perspective. It means that my version of ambitiousness also has a place in the world.

Most women who have achieved success agree that ambition doesn’t have to have a negative connotation.

Ambition is a very effective motivator for successful self-realization. It is the desire to achieve goals, gain new knowledge, and develop and improve oneself in all spheres of life—in the family, work, and relationships. Ambition compels us to move forward continuously and solve new problems.

Ambitions are fuel for the realization of our plans.

Questioning conventional viewpoints and identifying examples from your own life that show that there is more than one way to succeed is a great skill. Try it, and you’ll probably recall numerous situations when you did something “wrong” and got good results.

I want to address the negative perception of ambition because it is a real problem, exacerbated by a phenomenon called “stereotype threat.”

Sociologists describe “stereotype threat” as the risk of conforming to negative stereotypes about a group one belongs to when exposed to repeated portrayals and descriptions of the stereotype.

In movies and books, successful working women are often depicted as being so consumed with their careers that they have no time for relationships and personal lives. People endow them with such character traits as insensitivity, excessive strictness, obsession with results, and the willingness to sacrifice everything for their sake.

If a woman divides her time between work and family, she is commonly believed to be exhausted and guilty. Unfortunately, these perceptions are often projected on more than the world of fiction.

This unattractive stereotype is unfortunate because a significant number of women have no choice but to remain in the workforce. They may be the primary breadwinners or earn at least half or more of their family’s income.

Stereotypes related to women’s ambitions

We are surrounded by headlines and stories affirming that women cannot be committed to family and career. These damaging stories repeatedly broadcast that we have to choose. If we try to succeed in relationships and at work, we will be exhausted and unhappy while still sacrificing something.

These stereotypes trigger crippling fear in many women. Fear of not being liked, making the wrong choices, drawing negative attention to ourselves, being judged, failure, and, of course, fear of being a lousy mother-wife-daughter.

But when they effectively address and manage these fears, women can pursue professional success and personal fulfillment, freely choosing between building a career, nurturing a family, or both. Fear creates tension that wears you down and prevents you from enjoying your work and family.

In the Catalyst program, we train our business coaches to address this tension. Reducing internal contradictions enables business owners and managers to maximize their fulfillment in all areas of life.

I handwrite “What would you do if you weren’t afraid” daily in my notebook. I write down three options, sometimes the craziest ones, to show my brain my limitless possibilities and ambitions. Even if half of it doesn’t materialize, I’ll know that it’s something I can work towards.

Boldly fantasize in your notebook. Women can have ambitions to build a family and a career successfully.

What does the research tell us?

In 2009, a large-scale review of social research confirmed that marital relationships and parenting can thrive when both parents are fully engaged in their careers. The data showed that sharing financial and childcare responsibilities resulted in diminished maternal guilt, increased involvement from fathers, and children growing up to be successful.

Research on work-life balance suggests that women who fulfill multiple roles have lower levels of anxiety and higher levels of mental well-being.

It’s not unusual to hear stories about ambitious women who love their work and family. In fact, these stories accurately reflect reality. I have been surrounded by these kinds of women for a long time.

The world needs more accountable and ambitious women.

So ask yourself: what would I do if I wasn’t afraid? And then go out and do it.


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