Become Your Dream

While walking with my friend Liz in Central Park on Sunday, we stumbled upon this quote written in colored chalk on a sidewalk: “Become Your Dream.” 

Dream

Then a few blocks later, we saw it again.

And then a third time. Someone was out spreading random acts of inspiration.

Today is my son, Devin’s, 23rd birthday.

My son, Devin, and my niece/daughter, Randi
My son, Devin, and my niece/daughter, Randi

Today, as I watch him striving to define and become his dream, I am proud of and inspired by him.

Devin is graduating with a degree in business, marketing, and entrepreneurship from Lehigh University. He’s passionate about marketing, psychology, and consumer behavior, and, like a lot of people his age, he wants to start his own consulting practice. For now, though, Devin’s next big goal is to study for the GMAT and to go for a Master’s of Science degree in marketing.

Over the years, I’ve done my best to encourage each of my children – now young adults – to pursue whatever inspires them. Here are three pieces of advice I've given them over the years – the same advice I give to coaching clients who are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives:

1. Stick to your passions; don’t worry about what naysayers think about your choices because ultimately this is your life and you need to live it according to your own sensibilities.

2. Surround yourself with trusted, inspiring mentors and advisors that lift you up; from time to time, we all need feedback and advice. We need a sounding board.

3. You don’t have to decide today. Many choices have far-reaching consequences and costs, so don’t make them precipitously. Make sure you set limits with people who want to push you into a quick decision. Also, fully scope out your options—don’t just assume you know what they are. What’s the worst that can happen if you head in a new direction? What’s the best that can happen? Check in with your gut. Take your time.

The life I encourage my clients to lead – advice that my children, too, have internalized and run with – is a life filled with hope, dreams, aspirations—and the expectation of having them fulfilled.

But women – and working mothers in particular – are often so hard on themselves when it comes to giving equal opportunity to our career and personal life goals. Too often women beat themselves up when they buy into the cultural belief that we can’t be ambitious without cheating our children. We fear that if we go after our big dreams we’ll scare off a mate, we’ll be viewed as arrogant by colleagues, or that somehow, someday, we’ll be knocked to our knees for aiming too high.

Here’s what I know to be true from working with thousands of women over almost two decades.

First, women need support to be ambitious. We need to encourage women to go for it all —they can have a happy life at home and at work. When women value their ambition every bit as much as their other inviolable priorities, they are not only more fulfilled and productive in their work, but also happier individuals, more present parents, better partners, more compassionate friends and engaged community members Women who regard their ambition as a virtue are, in fact, more alive and grounded in every corner of their lives. That’s why we need to support women to put their career dreams at the top of their list of priorities, not at the bottom of the pile.

I’ve seen what can happen by doing this—a light bulb goes on and she never looks back.

She takes charge of her professional destiny. She learns firmly to insist on getting paid what she’s worth. She feels powerful in a new way—and owning it feels comfortable to her.

Ambition, however, is complicated. Sometimes you’ll be a gritty role model – because life gets unbalanced. But remember, in those moments of imbalance, that doesn’t mean that you’re getting it wrong. Your kids are watching you, and might just appreciate it later. That’s what happened to me.

It never occurred to me that my children paid a whole lot of attention to my career decisions when they were growing up, but one day when Devin was 15 he said, “I don’t want to be one of those people who gets up every day and goes to a boring job they hate just to get a paycheck. I think that’s sad. I want to be like you, Mom. You have an interesting life. You work for yourself, you travel, you decide what you want to do and how you want to work.” That was a deeply validating moment to realize that however much I might have sometimes “messed up” as a parent, I’d imparted the virtue of prizing ambition and passion.

What are you going to teach your children about ambition?

« Women’s Business Alliance “Open Forum Roundtable” Meetings in the Works: Vote For Your Time Preference | Main | The Cumulative Effect of Insignificant Decisions Cost Us Big Time »

More Like This: Ambition , Career , Women , Work/Life Balance

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I’m all about creating ways for ambitious women to share our stories with each other.

I am a business psychologist, researcher, author, executive coach, and career advisor. I lead workshops and lecture frequently on women’s need to embrace our ambition. I founded the Women’s Business Alliance, a motivational think tank for more than 2,500 women. For more details, see my about page.

I’d love to hear your story. Ambitious women owe it to ourselves—and the world—to make the contribution we were born to make. Let’s keep the dialogue flowing.

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