"This woman is headstrong, obstinate, and dangerously self-opinionated.”
These words were once used to describe a young Margaret Thatcher, who at the age of 23, was rejected when she applied for a job at the Imperial Chemical Industries.
My favourite pastime these days is looking up lists of the world’s most powerful women or the most powerful women lists in Fortune magazine. I have spent some time reading up on these powerful women, watching their TED Talks online and following their moves as reported in the press. They are CEOs and COOs of Fortune 500 companies, presidents, prime ministers, sports icons and musicians.
Women like Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, former US First Lady Michelle Obama, Ursula Burns, the former CEO of Xerox and Jacinda Ardern, who at 37, is the Prime Minister of New Zealand.
These women excite and inspire me beyond my wildest dreams.
There are many factors that contributed to their success, but from my point of view, the most important attribute that they share is what many women, myself included, struggle with. And it is why I want to talk about it today: Ambition.
When a man is described as ‘ambitious’, it is often a complement, but if a woman is described the same way, it is not to complement her. It is usually a euphemism for some negative attributes. This is why a lot of women, myself included, shy away from projecting our ambitions and proudly owning the word ‘ambitious’.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, in her book, Lean In, talks about how women are not ambitious enough, how they do not apply for top jobs because they are afraid of the price society makes them pay for being too ambitious. She says: “Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishment comes at a cost”.
Some of these costs include sentiments like “nobody will ever marry her.” Sad, but true. Generally, a man would rather chew his shoes before marrying a woman who is more educated than he is, who out-earns him and who is described in the press as “powerful”. It is an ego thing, ladies, not your fault.
However, lack of ambition also causes women to be grossly outnumbered and underrepresented in company boards, in corporate world and even in political leadership. Studies have shown that it is not that women are not educated or qualified enough for these top jobs, many simply don’t apply for various reasons, including family and raising children. This has to change with my generation.
Dear young ladies, ‘ambitious’ is not a dirty word. From my studying of these powerful women, ambition is what got them to where they are today, it is what will get us from here to those plum jobs we dream of, but are too shy to talk about because we do not want people to think that we are “too ambitious”.
Ladies, there is nothing wrong with being selfish and intentional with your life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting yourself before everyone else.
Men do it all the time, it is time we became selfish with our time and lives too. It is your right to be an ambitious woman. Do not apologise for wanting a better life for yourself. It is time to stop sacrificing for other people who do not matter and start sacrificing for the sake of our own dreams.
Choose the life that suits you, even if it means disappointing others. The way I understand it, ambition is beyond yearning after a big job or success.
Do not let anyone make you feel guilty for wanting more, doing more, working hard for your money or being ambitious. Most importantly, do not let anyone slander you out of your dreams. That said, please do not allow anyone to intimidate you or make you feel less deserving for the good things in life. You deserve the best. You are worthy of good things in life.
It is a great thing to be ambitious. I know this because these days, I am no longer ashamed or embarrassed of being ambitious. In fact, my dream is that what was of said Mrs Thatcher shall be said of me someday; “This woman is headstrong, obstinate, and dangerously self-opinionated”