"Who is this Ambitious woman," you may be asking. "Why should I trust her?"
I’m a business psychologist, executive coach, and career advisor who has spent more than fifteen years helping women embrace their ambition and achieve their career goals. As the founder and president of Manhattan Business Coaching, a professional development firm based in New York City and San Francisco, I’ve worked with thousands of clients throughout the United States and the world. I served as an Advisory Member to an American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force for empowering adolescent girls. I lead dozens of workshops every year and lecture frequently on women's need to embrace their ambition. In 1995, I founded and am the executive director of the Women's Business Alliance, an organization that has served as a motivational think tank for more than 2,500 women over eleven years. I founded the WBA specifically to help women overcome the barriers that keep them from reaching the top in their chosen fields. The U.S. Small Business Administration recognized my work with a "Women In Business Advocate of the Year 2000" award.
I’ve worked with women of every stripe, from students and recent graduates embarking on their brand new career path, to successful women in the corporate, non-profit, and government sectors. I’ve met with small business owners, heads of fast-growing start-ups, consultants, physicians, attorneys, investment bankers, architects, and executives and professionals in a wide array of fields. I’ve advised young women as young as 17 to women in their early sixties. Wherever they’ve been on their professional path, my mission has been to increase women’s business acumen by teaching them strategies for identifying meaningful, challenging work; increasing profitability; building and keeping wealth; competing with power and confidence in traditional and male-dominated corporate sectors; establishing themselves as experts; and tapping their competitive advantage.
As I spoke to and coached thousands of women, however, I began to detect a striking pattern: Even self-professed successful women were hitting walls, unable to achieve the next level in their professional lives—and they didn’t know why. Certainly they were well aware of the external barriers to their success—the famed glass ceiling, lack of support for those who choose to juggle work and family. However, they had no idea that the greatest factor holding them back was a barrier they themselves had created and internalized.
Based on my conversations with so many women, I suspected I knew exactly what mistaken belief was holding them back. Seven years ago, I began a systematic investigation of professional women’s attitudes toward ambition. I interviewed more than 500 women from every corner of the country and between the ages of 19 and 65.
These were all women who regarded themselves as high-achieving. Many were rookies with brand new, promising careers in front of them. Many were already quite successful. Many had established impressive track records of in-the-trenches professional experience,had broken through at least some gender barriers to become established in their fields, made comfortable-to-sizable incomes, and either had the title and position they wanted or were drawing a bead on the prize. I asked these women their definitions of success and ambition, how they saw themselves, how they visualized an ambitious woman, and what held them back from achieving even greater success.
I made a fascinating discovery. High-achieving women all harbor the same dirty little secret, no matter what our backgrounds: We all struggle with socially sanctioned failure to embrace our ambition. We all have the same pernicious audio loop playing between our ears:
Will being as Ambitious as I dream of being make me less of a woman? Can I? Should I? Dare I? Have I gone too far? Will it cost me my personal life? Will I make enemies? Will it make those I care about suffer? Is it impossible to be Ambitious and happy? Am I charging too much? Am I giving my employer or my clients their money’s worth? Will I lose an opportunity if I ask for more money? Who do I think I am calling myself an expert? Do I really know what I’m doing or am I in over my head? Does sticking up for myself and taking credit me mean I’m greedy, arrogant and that I’m being unfair to people I work with? Am I deserving of recognition and power? Am I worthy of going after my biggest, most precious career dreams?
Ambition isn’t a dirty word, but as far as many women are concerned, it might as well be. It doesn’t matter where we grew up, went to school, or go to work. It’s the same whether we’re in our twenties and new to our careers, or in our fifties and sixties and among the most highly-regarded professionals in our industries. Today, the greatest barrier to earning more money, getting the power and recognition we deserve, and feeling entitled to stay the course comes from inside of ourselves. We agonize over whether or not we deserve to be ambitious—and about what it will cost us.
I looked for books to recommend to supplement my own findings and recommendations. I found most that proposed to teach women how to succeed on their own terms, with a huge emphasis on mastering the life-in-balance issue. None of them challenged the notion that the accepted definition of success might actually be holding women back because it is couched in such a positive way: "You don’t have to be unabashedly ambitious. You’re above all that. You are sophisticated enough to realize that ambition isn’t as important as getting the life-balance equation right." Or, "You don’t have to be ambitious the way a man is. You’ve come around to realize that success is a different, and better, goal than ambition. You can win with empathy, cooperation and being generous. You don’t have to give up being a woman to get ahead."
I count it as a Pyrrhic victory that our modern, progressive culture is no longer pushing the idea that women cannot have it all. The message these books and popular media were transmitting is: We can have it all—so long as we’re willing to redefine what "it" is. Now it’s not the killer job and the great home life; it’s balancing the two, which, practically speaking, means less of each: women should be just thrilled to have a not-ideal job and a not-ideal life as long as they feel the two are balanced.
How can we take seriously the necessary soul-searching required to discover what we were meant to do professionally when our pure, unadulterated ambition is never discussed explicitly—only game plays and hardball techniques, softened for the female player?
I decided to write this book to address the great hunger on the part of high-aiming women for advice that speaks to our discontent—and to our ambition to be freely ambitious."
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"People always ask me why I founded the Women’s Business Alliance. Like you, I have had to struggle to stay true to my Ambitious dreams. I got to where I am today because a group of Ambitious women supported and taught me early in my career.
In my early 30’s, I’d been in business for myself for a little over a year when I discovered a mentoring program for women in San Francisco. Once a month, for a year, I would travel into the city with my business plan, strategies, and a raftload of problems in hand, and be mentored by a board of advisers on everything from setting up my accounting and books, sales, marketing and public relations to the emotional highs and lows of being self-employed. In these two-hour meetings I, along with three other protégées, discussed our business plans and all the related obstacles and challenges with a group of fifteen to twenty seasoned, powerful professional women. We received frank, direct, nuts-and-bolts business tactics and real-time feedback and advice from CEOs, attorneys, C.P.A.s, marketing gurus, bankers, and senior executives in sales, public relations and finance. Having my career aspirations ratified in the face of so much personal upheaval was profoundly transformative. Listening to the experiences and varied perspectives of so many successful businesswomen left me feeling confident and unabashed about pursuing my own big ambitions. It also taught me how to avoid naive mistakes, how to recognize talent, how to work collaboratively and how to ask for and make great use of expert advice.
Yet it also made me begin to recognize common ways ambitious women hold themselves back. For example, one of the protégées in my group routinely closed her mind to advice given to her by our advisory team. At every meeting, she would get extraordinary advice and feedback on her business plan. Without fail, she would counter with what I named the "Yeah, But" attack. As in: "Yeah, but, here’s why that won’t work in my case…." Finally a mentor came down hard on her in one of the meetings: "Why are you here if you want to dismiss every piece of great advice we give you?" I saw this "Yeah, But" theme repeat itself with countless other women over the years, along with other common self-sabotaging behaviors I identified. It became apparent to me that all of us—even women who are manifestly talented and experienced—struggle with confidence, don’t feel entitled to get paid what we’re worth, feel reluctant to go after the power and recognition we’ve earned, and don’t pursue careers with wholehearted passion. I began spotting and thinking about these common socially sanctioned self-sabotage traps into which Ambitious women fall.
I completed the mentoring program and continued running my business just north of San Francisco. I helped scores of motivated, interesting women (and men) discover or refine what they were meant to do and find their professional calling. But for all the success stories I midwifed, I also continued to see women who were consistently struggling with going after their Ambitious goals. I knew we needed a sophisticated support organization for women in business to help us identify and navigate these issues. When I looked around Marin County, where I lived and worked, for organizations that provided ongoing, hard-hitting business information and support for Ambitious women, there were none.
That was the genesis of the Women’s Business Alliance. We needed something besides those dreary networking groups where men and women fall over each other passing out business cards and trying to generate leads. I wanted to offer cutting-edge professional guidance for ambitchous women like myself, and I wanted to surround women with role models to help them envision achieving their career dreams.
I cold-called and lined up six months of top-notch guest speakers and laid out a meeting schedule. Then I phoned women I’d read about in the local newspapers and invited them to participate. By the end of the first week, I had fifty women on board and the Women’s Business Alliance was launched.
For the next six years, the Women’s Business Alliance hosted one and a half hour working lunch meetings that were attended by between 30 and 150 women. Once a month I brought in heavy-hitting experts to talk and answer questions about a diverse array of business and professional topics. I held a second monthly meeting called Open Forum Roundtable to serve as a forum for women to throw business dilemmas, questions and professional plans onto the table and get a wealth of feedback, advice, and support from other successful, Ambitious women.
After analyzing the results of my research into women’s views of ambition, I began making the subject a centerpiece topic in my biweekly Women’s Business Alliance conferences. In every meeting ideas would fly across the room; women were starving for this type of gold-standard information and peer advice and support. At the same time, each and every one of these women did battle within themselves with the same self-sabotaging traps I’d first spotted years earlier.
In my work in the Women’s Business Alliance and in my career and executive coaching practice, I challenged my clients to confront or fear of embracing their ambition. I helped thousands of women make dramatic course corrections by showing them how to break through those internal barriers and to wholeheartedly embrace their ambition.
In 2000, I met my husband Stephen. We figured out a bi-coastal Brady Bunch set up that would work for his son Jake and my son Devin, and that would also allow the two of us to continue focusing on our individual ambition goals. I expanded the Women’s Business Alliance and my executive coaching firm to New York City. I figured for sure that the same socially sanctioned self-sabotaging ambition issues I’d helped Ambitious women in other parts of the country spot and conquer wouldn’t be an issue for professional women in the world’s capital. Boy was I wrong. Same pressures, opposite coast. Each and every Ambitious woman I’ve worked with and interviewed in New York City—and there have now been hundreds—are just like the rest of us. No matter where we live, no matter if we have an Ivy League pedigree and a professional track record to die for, we all struggle, under social duress, to stay true to our big career dreams without feeling like freaks.
I’m convinced, personally and professionally, that we can and must do better."
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"I’m here to show you how to shine the light on your ambition.
My guess is that if you’re reading this, you too are a woman who struggles with these issues. You too are dying for advice and encouragement for how to stay true to your Ambitious career dreams. Perhaps you’re barely 20 and are already feeling stymied from the get-go. Perhaps you’re relatively new to the business world but are already experiencing Sisyphean battles in keeping your professional goals at the forefront of your life. Perhaps you’ve been momentarily derailed—by deciding to relocate with a boyfriend so that he can do his ambition dream first, before it’s your turn? Or marriage? Kids? An ailing loved one? Your own illness?—and you’re finding that that moment is stretching into infinity. You need help getting back on track. Or perhaps you’ve been in the game for a long time, but you’re not advancing the way you’d like to—or feel you deserve.
No matter where you are in your career, to say that you’ve worked hard is a major understatement. This is undoubtedly true whether you’re a student or recent graduate, or a professional who has established a solid professional track record, or a professional who is well on the way to doing so. You’ve paid your dues. You’re willing to pay plenty more. You’ve had some serious chunks taken from your hide. You’ve had the s__t kicked out of you. You’ve hung in there and poured over your mistakes to figure out how to do it better next time. You’ve built up substantive knowledge and business acumen. You’ve gotten tougher when it comes to taking and learning from criticism. You’ve become more skilled at using your instincts in the marketplace. You’ve gotten into the tough game of business and you fight every day to keep yourself in.
Yet somehow, for some reason, something’s not quite right. You’re not satisfied. Sometimes you feel that you’re settling for less in your career when what you really want is more. Sometimes your gut tells you that you’re holding yourself back, if ever so slightly, from wholeheartedly going for it where your most ambitious career goals are concerned. Something inside of you wants to be less tame. Something inside of you wants to be free to be as bold as you want to be. Yet it’s as if you’re pulling back on your own reins.
Here’s what I know to be true.
First, you give a woman support for being Ambitious. You encourage her to see that she can have a great, happy life—at home and at work. And you show her that, counterintuitive though our culture makes it seem, the real life course for becoming the happiest woman, the best friend, lover, spouse, mother and community member she can possibly be is to always honor her ambition as a virtue. You support her to see that the real way to make the contribution she was born to make is to place her inspiring career dreams at the top of her priorities list, not at the bottom of the pile. Next you give her powerful professional information and business strategies that are easy to use in her day-to-day work and personal life. You show her simple, effective, powerful tactics that build on each other and that empower her to hit her career targets.
Then a light bulb goes off in her consciousness. And she never looks back.
She takes charge of her professional destiny. She learns to firmly insist on getting paid what she’s worth. She feels powerful in a new way—and owning it feels comfortable to her. She learns to feel great about being recognized for her professional accomplishments. She learns to set boundaries with colleagues and people in her personal life so that her needs get met, not trampled on. She learns that she can act with professional integrity and treat others like human beings, but that she feels just fine about the fact that not everyone is going to like her when she stands up to those who would steal her thunder.
She becomes Ambitious.
I’ve seen this transformation occur with thousands of women I’ve worked with. I’m here to support that same shift in you. I’m going to show you how to be your most Ambitious self—and how be her right now.
In this book, I’ll work with you to help you get a handle on the overt messages we have been taught about being ambitious women, the covert messages that have filtered in unconsciously, and the self-sabotaging behaviors they cause. I’ll provide self-assessment quizzes, checklists, and exercises so you can quickly and easily assess if you’re prone to selling yourself short where your Ambitious goals are concerned. Then I’ll offer proven, fresh solutions—the same ones I use with my executive coaching clients—to help you overcome these internalized barriers. By the way: none of these strategies will ask you simply to think more like a man. My solutions will help you draw effective boundaries around your positive qualities so they won’t work against you. Once you learn to do this, you’ll be free. You can dare to be truly great on your own terms. You’ll be able to redefine the meaning of ambition and embrace the value of unleashing your sacrosanct career dreams on your own terms."
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"As you begin reading and working through this book, you are going to have your brain cells firing with career insights and questions. I want you to start an Ambition Journal to record what you discover during this process. Words are powerful, and writing down your ideas is a great way to power up your most Ambitious self.
An ambition journal is a must. It will keep you from losing all the little bits of career information you pick up along the way. You know what I mean: you jot down a note or name or idea—but the one day you need it, and fast, it’s nowhere to be found. Your Ambition Journal will be a place to compile all of your notes, contacts, articles, and resources. This isn’t a diary for your personal life; it is strictly a career tool.
Also use your Ambition Journal to record your responses to the exercises, quizzes and questionnaires that appear throughout the book. This will provide you with a confidential record of what you discover as you dig out your most ambitious self. If you prefer, you can also print out the quizzes and questionnaires from my website and then fill them out and put them into your Ambition Journal.
Your Ambition Journal will serve you throughout your entire career. It will be a fresh, solid professional foundation you have built and a template you can refer back to and use as a lifelong guide.
Now get ready to unleash your most amBITCHous self."
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