Growing up, I thought that the word “ambition,” and especially “ambitious,” was a dirty word.
The first thing that would come to my mind was that: “ambitious” = wants lots of money.
I associated the term ambitious with working really hard, being rigid, inflexible, overly focused on a goal at the detriment of others and even of one’s own well being. For me, to be ambitious meant to put all your eggs into the same basket, run across town with the basket in tow and crush everything in your way, including other people’s eggs and baskets.
Just google the word, and the example that comes up is “ruthlessly ambitious.”
For me, being ambitious was a naturally masculine trait and very unattractive in women. I had this vision of ambitious women wearing uncomfortably tight black suits, pearl earrings and never smiling. I saw ambition as something fundamentally destructive from both within and without.
I was so anti-ambitious, in fact, that even though I was top of my class throughout school (the good student syndrome – we’ll talk about that cookie another time!) I was determined not to go to a good university and not to take a degree that might, one way or another, lead me to what I saw as an ambitious path.
The year I turned 16, when I was applying to university, was a year of tremendous fighting with both my parents and my teachers. I excelled in all scientific subjects, something that came very naturally to me, but I decided to major in literature and philosophy instead. In France, when I grew up (I don’t know if this is still the case), the academic system was heavily biased towards science subjects. In other words, if you wanted access to a good university and a good job you were expected to major in science, even if you weren’t good at it or hated it.
Yet, here I was, excelling in science, and choosing literature. Why? Because I was terrified of being caught in the “ambitious” trap of life. It was my way of making sure this would never happen, to the immense frustration and confusion of my parents and teachers.
I had the same mindset when applying to university. I applied to small, local universities that were considered substandard and chose (and I can say this with hindsight and a smile today) very bizarre courses. Among others, I applied for Vietnamese studies at a French university. I also applied for Tibetan studies at a small British university. Both of which in part because it involved spending at least one year in Vietnam / Tibet which appealed to me. Also, it was probably because it was exactly what I was expected not to do. Ahh, teenage years.
I’ll tell you how this all turned out another time. This is to show you how determined I was to be anti-ambitious. Looking back, I can see that I was seriously ambitious about being anti-ambitious!
Today, I have completely changed my understanding of what ambition means.
For me, ambition now means to want something and to put things into place to achieve that thing.
Ambition is a neutral term. It can be destructive in the wrong hands (the wrong mindset!) or it can be regenerative, sustainable and beautiful with the right mindset.
As a teenager, I was clearly pretty ambitious even though I didn’t see it that way. I wanted to change the world. I didn’t want any of the options that the system, as it existed, was handing out to me. But I still wanted a lot of things, like a happy fulfilling life full of excitement and challenges. I wanted a beautiful planet where people live in harmony with each other and nature. I wanted to feel good and energised every morning when I woke up, and not depleted and tired as the schooling system was making me feel.
Ambition, with the right mindset, is a very beautiful thing. The way I see it today, ambition is about putting some eggs in your basket, offering to carry other people’s eggs along the way, leaving some eggs to flourish into hens who will then lay more eggs. Ambition is strolling around town with my egg basket, having a chat with fellow town people, handing out eggs along the way and accepting eggs too. At the end of the line, ambition is having reached where you wanted to reach, with a basket full of eggs, a town full of chicks and hens and town people with plenty of eggs too.
In my other business, ECRUU, I work with people in the agricultural commodity trading sector. My clients are traders, bankers, logistics people, analysts etc. I have met a lot of them, notably women, who are passionate about making a difference in the world, who are passionate about leaving the planet a better place, who want a basket full of eggs both for themselves and their families but for everyone else around too, with plenty of hens strolling around too! These inspiring people have helped me redefine what it means to be ambitious.
Today, I can proudly say that Yes, I am Ambitious, Woman.
Words make worlds. The beliefs, values and emotions that we attribute to words have a tremendous impact on our life and decision-making process.
Unpacking the emotional load that we unconsciously tie to words and ideas is a key component of our journey towards emotional awareness, which is the ability to see our emotions for what they are, to be with them without trying to repress or numb them out or letting them dictate our actions.
Unpacking the emotional load that I had unconsciously attributed to the word “ambitious” helped me gain awareness, perspective, and eventually be empowered to turn a word, concept and idea that I was fighting against into a useful and helpful one. This is the journey towards emotional empowerment, the ability to use our emotions as allies.
If this is something you are working towards, if this is something you think you might need help with, I’m here to help! You can book a discovery session (free) here.