The Cumulative Effect of Insignificant Decisions Cost Us Big Time


In a New York Times opinion piece, "Mothers in the Work Force," Jennifer Glass offers up an all-too-common way that women self-sabotage by failing to map out if-then scenarios before making decisions that seem relatively insignificant in insolation

"Focus[ing] on enabling mothers to choose between homemaking and paid work without acknowledging the long-term economic costs of women withdrawing from the labor force for themselves and their families.

"Despite the seeming advantages of having a full-time parent at home in the short run, the risks of divorce or future spousal unemployment are strong enough that any woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home mother risks her family’s future well-being.

"Not to mention her own loss of Social Security and pension income, career growth in income and responsibility if she had remained employed, and the diverse social networks that help both children and parents with practical and emotional assistance."

In Ambition Is Not A Dirty Word, I talk about the cumulative effect of incorrectly weighing decisions and how it costs women is ways we never counted on: 

In cognitive therapy, there's the well-known concept in cognitive therapy of seemingly insignificant decisions: you make one decision after another and they add up to a huge decision

So, for example, if you decide,

“Oh, I’m not going to negotiate that salary they offered because it seems fine—and besides, I don’t like to negotiate.”

Or, “Sure, I’ll cut my rate for that client; it’s better than risking losing the project.”

Or, “I have no idea what my value proposition commands in the marketplace in terms of salary, but I don’t have the time or luxury right now of finding out; I’ll get around to it later.” 

Or, "I'm going to off-ramp and be a stay-at-home mom for a while. It's best for my children, we can afford it, and then I won't have to worry about work-life balance so much. I'll pick up where I left off later."


All these decisions may seem relatively unimportant in isolation. But where making more money is concerned, the pattern pretty much adds up to this: 

 I’m not going to bother earning what I’m worth or caring about making more money, at least not for now. But “now” adds up;  you end up selling yourself short in a huge way—today, and over the course of your lifetime. 


Every choice has consequences—pros and cons. 

But, as ambitious women, just how do we go about weighing our choices in a mindful, conscious way—particularly in light of the fact that we are given very little support for doing so?

How do we choose correctly when we aren’t encouraged to think today about our futures?

How do we avoid setting ourselves up for pain and suffering when we aren’t taught to try and calculate very specific if/then scenarios:

If I make this choice now, and things go as planned, how will my life be affected? 

If this or that unexpected thing happens, then where would that leave me?

What would my options be then?

And if I thoroughly consider and analyze real, potential future outcomes, do I still feel comfortable right now making this choice? 

How do you approach these decisions in your own life?

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.” 


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?


Woman beach footprints iStock_000002176354Medium “Why do women have such a hard time acknowledging the importance of loving our work?”  –Gail Evans, Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman

Ambitious women owe it to ourselves and to the world to make the contribution we were born to make. The world deserves to hear from us.

In Ambition Is Not A Dirty Word, a book I wrote to encourage women to reclaim our ambition as a virtue, not a dirty word – and on my various blogs as well as when speaking with the press about this subject – I've repeated this observation:

"She’s a staple of movies, novels, and TV: the hard-charging female entrepreneur in her Armani power suit and Manolo heels. She’s smart, aggressive, successful – and most people can’t wait to see her get her well-deserved comeuppance. When her fall from grace over her latest business failure or scandal lands her above the fold of the newspaper, it seems only right that she gets knocked to her knees.”

“Let's face it, there's just one word that our culture bestows on that supremely ambitious woman who unapologetically values a career, and that word starts with a “B.” It’s our prevailing cultural paradigm: ambitious men are go-getters, but ambitious women are bitches (or arrogant, or bad moms, or women who repel mates, or selfish, or ______ fill in the blank).”

We're finally seeing a cultural uprising against this socially-sanctioned double standard that judges high-achieving women according to a different set of rules than their brothers. And, as ambitious women, we're now feeling the force of a collective course correction. It's time to link arms and lift ourselves and each other up.

Here we are at the end of 2010.  As we move into the holidays and New Year, let's reclaim our ambition as a virtue. 

Forget going crazy with shopping and over-spending and out-of-control present buying. Forget buying into the junk culture’s mandate that we live up to certain holiday season roles that women should play (that actually make us stressed, burned out, and feeling guilty and inadequate when it’s all said and done).

Instead, let’s be thankful for our talents, our big dreams, and for our ambition to make the contribution we were born to make. 

Consider the following virtuous definitions of the word ambitious (from Webster’s:
1. having ambition; eagerly desirous of achieving or obtaining success, power, wealth, or a specific goal.

2. requiring exceptional effort, ability, etc.

3. aspiring, enterprising; wishing to rise (mentally or spiritually) to a higher level or plane, or to attain some end above ordinary expectations. 

Wouldn’t it be great to view our ambitious goals through that positive and inspiring lens? Imagine how that would change our perspective.

Embracing a virtuous definition of winning as an ambitious, talented woman who believes that the world deserves to hear from her means following three golden rules:

1. Love your work without apology, and with integrity.
Be willing to aggressively pursue the professional work you were meant to do and to strive for any career opportunities that inspire you. Remind yourself daily, “My ambition is a virtue. The real course for becoming the happiest woman, the best friend, lover, spouse, mother and community member I can possibly be is to always honor my ambitious dreams.” 

2. Regard your deepest career aspirations as unconditionally sacrosanct.
Don’t buy into the false choice that you must choose between a great career or a great personal life. The real way to have a great, happy life is to see your career ambition as a part of your value system to which you must give equal attention, along with other non-negotiable priorities in your life, including your partner, your kids, your friends, your community.

3. Feel entitled to earn your worth.
You must be able to charge your full marketplace value without self-reproach. Don’t leave money on the table. Be committed to abundance, to this life fulfillment mantra, “I deserve to be paid well for doing meaningful, challenging work that makes a difference. I refuse to sell myself short. I will take control of my own economic empowerment.” 

Take a stand. Do so internally. Believe in your own talents. Believe in your big dreams. Have an unshakeable resolve that you deserve to love your work with a grand passion. Stand up and speak out. Do so courageously, from your heart. You will not only inspire yourself; you will also be a role model for other girls and women. You will help validate your sisters’ belief in their right to dream big, to achieve, and to be recognized for making the contribution we women are born, entitled, and obligated to make. 

As the ambitious woman you know you are – and are entitled to be – I encourage you to answer for yourself, every day, a question posed in Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”:

Tell me,
What is it you plan to do with your one
Wild and precious life?

Say it; believe it: “The world deserves to hear from us.” And spread the word!

How do YOU feel about YOUR big, ambition goals? Post your comments below.

Sincerely and ambitiously,
Dr. Debra Condren 



Do Working Moms Raise Sons Who Cheat?

IStock_kid A British psychiatrist has concluded that hiring a nanny to care for your infant boy could turn him into a serial womanizer. Why? Because you have conditioned him, from the earliest age, to the comfort and solace of “the other woman."

Yet one more example of why so many ambitious women simultaneously crave and fear our ambitious goals.

Wouldn’t it be great if women could ignore what our culture thinks about high-achieving women and eliminate the fear part of our ambition equation? Just imagine how that would change our perspective.

Continue reading "Do Working Moms Raise Sons Who Cheat? " »

Setting Up a Home Office: 13 Essentials for Working at Home

Berger, Lauren."Setting Up a Home Office: 13 Essentials for Working at Home." Marie Claire 6 Mar. 2010

Continue reading "Setting Up a Home Office: 13 Essentials for Working at Home " »

Malkin, Nina. "5 Best Looks to Land the Job." Good Housekeeping 8 Feb. 2010. Print

Malkin, Nina. "5 Best Looks to Land the Job." Good Housekeeping 8 Feb. 2010. Print


What to Wear to a Job Interview: 5 Best Looks to Land the Job: For a great first impression at an interview — and every day at work — learn from these five women, whose confidence-boosting makeovers showed them the new fashion, hair, and makeup rules.

Continue reading "Malkin, Nina. "5 Best Looks to Land the Job." Good Housekeeping 8 Feb. 2010. Print" »

How Not to Go AWOL (Absent Without Leisure)

Dear Debra: I get so stressed out planning to leave work for vacation and check in so constantly while I’m gone that by the time I finally unwind, vacation’s almost over, and then of course when I get back to the office I’m snowed under the pileup.  How can I make leaving and returning to the office after vacation less stressful?

Continue reading "How Not to Go AWOL (Absent Without Leisure)" »

How to Start Your Own Business While Working Full-Time For Someone Else

Dear Debra: I’m dying to start a small business. How can I find time to set myself up as an entrepreneur while working 9-5 for someone else?

Claim two hours a day for start-up activities. One is for creative, strategic, hard planning—activities that require your brain to be fully awake and fired up. The second hour is for the roll-up-your-sleeves, boring, rote grunt work that doesn’t call for mental alertness or focus—just time. Every one of us can find two otherwise wasted hours, no matter what our work and life situation.

Continue reading "How to Start Your Own Business While Working Full-Time For Someone Else" »

Balance or Not, You are Normal

Dear Debra: I ordered pizza for dinner for my kids twice this week-and last; the house is a wreck, I brought home a mountain of work last weekend and barely made my daughter's school play.  What's wrong with me?  Does everyone else have their act together?

Here's the truth that no one tells us, especially glib work-life balance evangelists: Once you get out into the world of work (and even before that-in college, for example) you should just expect that your day-to-day life simply isn't always going to flow smoothly.

Continue reading "Balance or Not, You are Normal" »

Is Your Big Picture In Balance?

Dear Debra: I founded a fast-growing start up that's requiring a ton of time. 
My wife supports how much she and I are devoting to career.  Except lately, there's been tension when I end up stressing until the last minute about whether I'll be able to get away for a weekend trip we've planned, or repeatedly have to cancel dinner plans with friends.  Am I normal or becoming a fanatical workaholic?

Continue reading "Is Your Big Picture In 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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