Pursue What Matters
Episode 100: Embrace Ambition
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Are you ambitious? Or were you taught that that was a dirty word? Something you shouldn’t aim for? or certainly not admit? Well, it is time to embrace ambition.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:14
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters Podcast, where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Okay, so is it? Is it okay to be ambitious? Have we reached that point of enlightenment? In our world, when it comes to ambition, this term is so darn loaded, especially when we think about ambition used in reference to women versus in reference to men, right? When you think about what it means to be an ambitious man, right? Traditionally, this has been seen as a really wonderful thing. It’s good, it’s strongly encouraged. But we know that the opposite has traditionally been true when it comes to calling women ambitious, right there. And there are so many layers of this. And we’re going to talk a little bit about that today. And really help you to examine your own biases, your own history, your own upbringing, different work situations that maybe have have contributed to you struggling to embrace your ambition. Because here’s the thing you have gifts to bring, you have work to do. And we don’t want this fear or this hesitation around ambition getting in the way because it certainly can get in the way. And so today, we’re going to focus on some great research and clinical application. So when I say clinical, I mean practical applications, for why it is essential for you to embrace ambition.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:14
So you know, of course, every week with a podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters and strengthen your confidence to lead in one of three areas, right? So whether that’s clarity, and having a vision, for your work for your life for your team, whether that is curiosity, and self awareness, right? curiosity is really going inside and reflecting and bringing some perspective to your life and to your work. And the third area is community because we want to build and lead powerful communities. And so this week with the podcast, the main area that we’re going to be focused on focusing on is curiosity, and this self awareness about like, what are your beliefs about ambition? And how are how would like, what messages have you received about ambition, and how have maybe these beliefs or these messages undermined your progress, and your willingness to take action on ambition or, you know, shifted the way you view yourself, because for a lot of individuals, especially women, viewing themselves as ambition or recognizing that they have ambition, has been traditionally seen very negatively. And we don’t want that for you. And so of course, as we work with this curiosity and the self awareness, it will help you develop clarity about the path forward, it will also help you really step up and embrace opportunities to lead and to build communities. And so that’s what we’re going to be focusing on today.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:46
And I also just want to send out a little a shout out because today is our 100th episode. So that’s kind of cool. So I was intentional about this topic for the 100th episode, right? Because I think for a lot of individuals, a lot of women especially, it’s easy to say, why would I do this? Why would I do a podcast? Why would I go after this job? Why would I get this, you know, go to school or get this degree. And if we’re not careful, it holds us back. And I think that we have a lot of critics in our head. We have a lot of critics in our lives, maybe hopefully you don’t have too many. But I think it’s great on our 100th episode, to invite you to embrace ambition. That’s certainly something I’m trying to do in my life. And it’s not about ambition for ambition sake, but it’s about serving, it’s about showing up. It’s about helping others and adding value. And so I hope that you find that with the podcast and that you’re ready for some great perspective on ambition.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:58
So we’re gonna to talk about why it’s essential for you to embrace ambition. And I’m even going to go a step further than that. And I want you to listen up to this. If you have ambition, towards something, and you refuse to embrace it because of fear of being judged, or criticized, I want you to hear this, you are not living to purpose. And it’s very unlikely that you will reach your full potential. And that might sound kind of harsh, but I stand by it. And I hope that I hope that as you listen to the podcast, it will make sense to you and you can come to more fully embrace your ambition. Because here’s the thing, we all have strengths and weaknesses, right, like that’s something that most of us understand pretty clearly. And most of us agree that it is really important to clearly understand our weaknesses, and even take responsibility, not only to understand them, but for addressing those weaknesses to the degree we can so that these weaknesses do not undermine our progress in life, right. So if you have something to work on, it is actually your job to understand what that is, and to take responsibility for addressing it, to skill build, to get feedback to shift your perspective, that sort of thing. And I submit to you that it is the same with our strengths. So just like with our responsibility, or our weaknesses, we have a responsibility to understand those, and to do the work. to address those, it’s the same with strength, you have a responsibility to clearly understand your strengths, and to see how you can meaningfully contribute and show up with your best gifts in the world. If it’s kind of selfish not to. So I know that’s pretty harsh language, but we need your gifts. And your false modesty does not serve the world. And meaningful goals are powered through ambition. And ambition can be a power for good, right.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:21
So ambition can destroy, but ambition can also build. And so if you care about others, if you care about contributing, if you care about serving, you need to embrace your ambition, right, and let’s be very clear about your intention. It’s not to have power to lord it over others is not to take advantage of others. And that’s sometimes how ambition turns into a dirty word, especially for women, they think it means they’re selfish. They think it means that they don’t care about others. And there, there isn’t anything further from the truth, especially when you can be centered on what is my intention. And if your purpose is to serve to contribute to add value to others in meaningful ways, you have an obligation to embrace your ambition, because we need your gifts. And playing small, does not do the world any favors. And of course, we have a lovely quote from Marianne Williamson, when she talks about that, that “playing small, does not serve others, it actually just serves to protect us from our own fear of failure and our own fear of even success.”
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:39
So today, we’re going to focus on how to do that in healthy ways, right to keep your intention clear, that really do lead to the fulfillment of purpose, and potential. And I got to tell you, I’m so excited about this, because this is the good stuff. When good men and women everywhere, can embrace their ambition for good. That is how the world changes. That’s how people’s lives are improved. And so this is the good stuff, let’s not be afraid of that. And I just, it gets me excited, and I love helping individuals really learn to embrace their ambition.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:20
So let’s understand a little bit of the problem. Let’s understand why we’ve got some conflicted feelings around ambition. So first thing that we want to think about is this idea known as the ambition gap. And there has been a question out there that, you know, there seems to be an ambition gap between men and women. Maybe you’ve heard of this, maybe you’ve come across it. And right, the question is, are women just less ambitious than men? And, you know, maybe you think the answer is yes, maybe you think the answer is no. But what we know from the research is that there is not an ambition gap. Now there’s a gap between how far a man will go versus how far a woman will go in, in career development, but that’s based on a lot of other factors. And part of this bias around ambition actually plays into that. But this is what you need to understand about the ambition gap, it does not exist. So women in the US make up nearly half of the entire entry level workforce, but they only comprise a fifth of the C suite. So this is one of the reasons that it looks like there’s an ambition gap, because it’s like, okay, there’s lots of women that start out working, but yet, very few women make it to the C suite, they very few women make it to upper levels of leadership, which is what we would kind of think about with some of the ambition. And so the the problem is that the assumption with the ambition gap, is that there is that, that the scarcity of women at the top at in leadership roles is due to a lack of ambition. And that is absolutely wrong.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:20
Okay, so there’s a lot other a lot of other reasons why women are not making it to these higher levels of leadership. But it’s not because they lack ambition. So let’s take a look at some of the research just to kind of help you understand this. And so in a study of women’s ambition at work, right, that they asked the question, how ambitious how ambitious, Do you consider yourself when it comes to your career? Okay, and so, of women at work, 54% said they were very ambitious. So it certainly doesn’t seem like there’s an ambitious gap there. And only 3% said, they’re not ambitious at all.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:05
Okay, so women start out, right, and they start out with a lot of ambition. And when asked what job level Do you expect to be at in 10 years, so right kind of looking at career timeline 15% of the women between ages 18 and 44, said they in 10 years, they expect themselves to be in the C suite. yet. Now, this is where we look at the gap. Only 6% of s&p 500 companies have female CEOs. Okay, so there’s a real disparity there, right? Like women have the ambition, but they’re not getting to these leadership positions. And we know there’s more going on there than just a lack of ambition, because ambition is not the problem. They have it. Of course, some other numbers to pay attention to is that almost 60% of bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the US are now awarded to women, right? We know more women are going to college, we know more women are graduating from college, we know more women are going to graduate school. So what does that tell us? Right? This is not a lack of skills. And it’s not a lack of qualified women. In fact, if we look at this education, these education numbers, women are more qualified than men. And there should be more women moving into these leadership positions if we’re just looking at skills and educational qualifications. But right, it’s not that easy. When faced with unconscious bias, and limited workplace support, which are some of the other factors that come into play. These can really make it very challenging for women to act on their ambition, and move to leadership positions, it can feel like an out of reach goal, because they don’t see a clear ladder, right, they don’t see a clear path. And so that is really the heart of the problem. And so we want to talk about how this shows up. Because, right this my intention with this is not to beat up on anyone at all. In fact, it’s to just broaden our perspective. And you know, whether you struggle with embracing your ambition, or whether you lead and we want to be aware of these dynamics, we want to be aware of how this shows up at work because it does all the time.
Dr. Melissa Smith 14:35
Okay, so the first piece that we want to look at with this ambition gap is gender bias. So gender bias is a big issue when it comes to ambition. So today, for every 100 men promoted and hired to a management position, only 72 women are promoted and hired for the same role. Okay, even though we know women are generally more skilled and more quality more educated based on the other numbers, we also know that for women of color, this figure is even lower. And so that’s of course, rough, right? Like if you if you have if you are Latina, or if you are black, you will struggle even more with this. And of course, that just confirms what many women experience. And that’s despite 75% of black women and 65% of Hispanic women. And this is in a McKinsey study from 2019. Despite 75% of black women, and 65% of Hispanic women, and 46% of white women viewing themselves as very ambitious.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:46
So look at that, of those groups, white women are the least ambitious, but they are being promoted more than the Latina woman and the black woman. And so of course, right like we see big disparities here. And we also know that as part of this gender bias, there is a performance bias, okay, and this is the belief that men are slightly more capable or competent than they are, and that women are slightly less capable and competent than they are okay. And so men tend to be overconfident. And women tend to be under confident. And this has real impacts in terms of going out for promotions or new jobs. And it is this performance bias is so pervasive that it really impacts our decision making. So if you think about your hiring for a position, if you have this performance bias, you might be more likely to hire the male because of this performance bias, even though that may be completely in accurate. And so it from an article with CNBC, when they looked at this McKinsey study, they said men are typically hired based on potential and what we believe they can do, while women are typically hired and promoted based on what they’ve already accomplished. Okay, and so you see a really big difference, there are really big gender bias and performance bias. I mean, how many of us would like to be hired for our potential like that, I’d like that, that’d be really nice. But the stakes are different. The rules are different for men and women. And so that’s something we want to be aware of.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:37
So we can challenge that bias. This is very similar to you know, another phenomenon that we see as part of the gender bias, which is the broken rung. So if we think about that climbing that corporate ladder, when we think about the broken rung, this is the issue of young, qualified women being passed over for early management roles. And so you know, if they’re being passed over for management roles early in their career, you can see how that broken rung is going to prevent them from actually climbing higher on that corporate ladder. Because if men are getting a boost early in their careers, they’re going to continue to progress where the women aren’t getting the boost. They’re not. They’re not moving, moving forward. They’re not advancing in their career, at nearly the same pace. And this is why if you are a leader, if you own or run a company, you’ve got to pay attention to this gender bias, so it doesn’t show up.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:42
So let’s get a little more specific as we think about ambition and gender. Right. So first of all, we we know that there’s bias. And that let’s let’s think about this in terms of adopt the double standard, right? So ambition is a classic double standard characteristic. So it is something we celebrate in male entrepreneurs and businessmen, but we use ambition we use the same characteristic to invalidate women in the exact same position. Oh, how rotten is that? That is just miserable. And so, you know, when it comes to politics, constituents, right, like so people in the community or in the voting district, they don’t trust female politicians that are too ambitious. Whereas with men, you know, they, they have more trust and more confidence in a male politician who is seen as ambitious. People also tend to see powerful women as unlikable. Right, and that kind of goes with that ambitious piece. And the other thing that happens with this double standard characteristic is women qualify their ambitions, right so men can more easily or seem to be more more comfortable, absolutely embracing their ambitions without being shot without being, you know, reserved about that. Because look at that, right men are rewarded for ambition it’s seeing in such a positive light. But women who are ambitious, will typically qualify their ambitions, they will say, well, I’ve had a lot of help, or you know, it’s not that big of a deal. And that is often not because they are uncomfortable with their ambition, or don’t believe that they haven’t done the hard work. They know they’ve done the hard work. But it’s because they’re worried about perceptions. They know that to be seen as an ambitious woman is seen negatively. And that one just breaks my heart. I get it, I get it. I felt that myself at times.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:51
But what happens is women qualify their ambitions, they stay holding back, they don’t step up for promotions, and leadership opportunities. And that’s what we want to fix. That’s why we want to embrace that mission. We want to help increase understanding and awareness so that, you know, when you’re hiring, when you’re adding team members, when you’re looking at advancement opportunities, you’re not falling for these biases.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:19
So Dr. Laura Cray, she is a leadership professor at Berkeley. And her research looks at how the fixed gender roles and gender relevant beliefs affect our perceptions of each other. Right. So she does a deep, deep dive into this. And she argues that in our culture, right, men and women inhabit pre-determined, right? So read that as gendered, roles. That are continually justified by our social expectations. And these expectations are often formed based on stereotypes of who does what kind of work. And so let’s just think about that for a minute. When we think about leaders, leaders are often considered aggressive and dominant. And these are traits that normally we consider associated with men. And so seeing women in historically male occupations introduces cognitive confusion, right, and can threaten our understanding of fixed gender roles. It’s like, No, wait, wait, wait, we can’t have a male nurse, that does not work for a lot of people. Now, I think it’s awesome that that, that gender bias has really relaxed. It’s, it’s, you know, quite common to see male nurses, for example, right. But this, this would be an example of that these historically male occupations or historically female occupations, it creates cognitive confusion when we see, you know, someone of the other gender in that role. And of course, this effect goes both ways, right, because men are siphoned into particular jobs. And, you know, I know for myself, so I’ve definitely had experience with this. And I have been called ambitious a lot in my life. And you know, that makes sense with some of the work I do, and my educational background and all of that. And, you know, it’s absolutely true, that I am an ambitious woman. And I feel really great about that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:24
But let me tell you, I have not always had positive experiences with that. And I’ve had experiences where others view of me really can throw a wrench in things, right when other people call me ambitious, but they see that as bad. So, you know, I have had experiences of receiving a six page letter in my mailbox. Basically, berating me for my ambition, and of course, brought in some great guilt around parenting. It was horrible. I mean, so bad. I won’t even get into the details of it. But no, no individual should get a letter like that. No, no woman trying to do her best. should get a letter like that, but a six page letter basically, berating me for being ambitious. And then I’ve also had this experience of, you know, another ambitious woman. And I would say like, this is like, I mean, not in the best way possible, right? Like it’s an individual that I admire, and she’s certainly ambitious, certainly successful. But I have an experience with this woman, where she called me ambitious not too many years ago, and while I was certainly very comfortable with that term, in that moment, in that conversation, I did not feel that this woman was using that term as a compliment to me, you know how you just have that feeling of like, something’s not quite right here, it was not a compliment. It felt very competitive. And all I can say is I thought, I felt really uncomfortable when she said it to me. And again, this was not because I had difficulty embracing my ambition, but because I think she was actually trying to insult me, or compete or compare, and that did not leave a good taste.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:33
So what I have learned, though, for myself, is that when I can stay centered on purpose, right, so why am I working towards a big goal? That is definitely ambitious. I don’t get too tangled up with others perceptions and intentions with that word. So when I can be centered on purpose of why am I working on this big goal? Why does it matter? Who can I serve? How can I help, then I don’t get thrown off too much by the six page letters, or some of these frenemy comments that you can run into. But here is the thing, if I’m not centered on purpose, if I’m not grounded, in purpose, it can be so easy to be thrown by others who use the word ambition as a pejorative, who use the label to judge and criticize women especially. So there’s no excuse for it. But here’s the deal, you don’t have to be unmoored by it. And this is why grounding and centering on purpose is so important, you can continue on your ambitious path undeterred by the critics. And here’s the thing, you don’t have time for them anyway, you’ve got big goals that you need to go after. And my hope is that this podcast and the review of the research can be helpful for you in encouraging your ambition and, and using that for good. So it’s good, it’s so wonderful.
Dr. Melissa Smith 27:08
Another component that we see with gender roles is this internalized, fixed view of roles. So right, like, Whoa, so I just talked about like, in our society, we tend to have some pretty fixed gender role beliefs, but and that can be outside of the right, but you may have also internalized some of these fixed gender roles, okay. And so, this, this effect is not solely between genders, the perception of fixed gender roles can often be very strongly internalized, right. So there can be a self perception that’s based on the social stereotypes. And so as a result, many women especially may have difficulty admitting their ambition, right, so it just feels unnatural because we, we aren’t used to it. Studies have shown that a person’s willingness to admit ambition is related to whether that person thinks they’ll be able to achieve the goal, and what the value of the rewards are. So if you have a big goal, and there’s a lot of uncertainty, you might be kind of hesitant to admit that you’re ambitious. So this can be really problematic for women, because sometimes they see that there’s less reward for their success, where if they’re a man, there would be a lot of reward for that, or women may worry that admitting goals makes failure more likely or more possible. And so, I want you to consider this. So, if you are a woman right and you struggle with this, I want you to ask yourself this question, What dreams have you not even allowed yourself to have? right because we stop ourselves all the time with this internalize that gender role.
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:56
So I I am part of a religious community that is very conservative right and as part of this religious culture, there is a very high value on women being homemakers and prioritizing. mothering and doing the work in the home, right. So those homemaker, this homemaker role is highly valued. And sometimes what that has looked like is you should choose to be home instead of choosing to go to work and I use choose recognizing that that’s not always a choice for individuals. But as I have worked with a lot of these many women in this community who, you know, in high school, they’re ambitious, and they have big dreams. They have big goals, but as they as they kind of move through college, And they start to look at marriage because that’s also a value that that is very highly focused on in this religious community, they start to shift their path, they start to ratchet back their dreams, because they don’t, they don’t know how to make it all work. Sometimes that’s it, they feel like it’s wrong for them to be ambitious. They feel conflicted, because it’s like, oh, like, I really want to be a mother. But I also really want to pursue this degree. And so it makes me crazy, it makes me sad, it breaks my heart, that, you know, there are plenty of these women that will scale back their dreams, or will say, you know, I’m not going to plan on this college education because I want to prioritize marriage, or I want to prioritize mother motherhood. And I always, you know, after I’m done pulling out my hair, I always just want to have this conversation, that you know what, like, you don’t have to choose one or the other. Right. And just because there may be fixed gender roles, it doesn’t mean you can’t forge a new path that works for you, that works for your family that works for, you know, honoring all of your values and priorities.
Dr. Melissa Smith 31:24
So, you know, maybe you started on a path, but you feel conflicted. Right, because you’re like, I don’t know if this is right, or this puts, you know, you feel like this puts you in conflict with some of your values. That conflict, that ambiguity, that uncertainty, will impact the effectiveness of your goal pursuit, to say nothing of whether you also have social support moving forward. So how many individuals women especially have not pursued their preferred educational course, because they wanted to be realistic, or they were afraid of being judged? Or believed they were being selfish for having ambitions. This is a big problem, right? Or if there’s a new marriage, prioritizing one partners, education over the others. That is a way that we ratchet back ambition. That is a way that we undermine goal pursuit, rather than actually leaning into the complexities of how do we make this work? How do we make this work?
Dr. Melissa Smith 32:32
So I can speak from experience on this? You know, my husband and I have been married a long time and we’ve done all of our education together. Okay, so for me, I have 13 years of higher education, I have 13 years of school, including undergrad, and my husband has 11 or 12, I think it’s 12. Can’t remember exactly. We’ve done all of that schooling together. And one thing is that, you know, for some women, they would say I can’t pursue school, I need to prioritize my husband’s school, rather than like juggling and making it work and sacrificing. And I know that there are lots of factors that go into that, right. We think about finances, we think about school loans, all of that sort of thing. But one thing that I have always appreciated, and it’s something that, you know, my husband and I have built together is this perspective that no one’s no one’s development counts more than the other partner. Right, that part of, you know, my personal and professional development, right is just as important as his. And so we’ve got, right, so because we had that shared value from the beginning, right, whenever there was an opportunity, or a goal or an ambition for either one of us, that it was never a question of, are you going to do it? Are you not going to do it? Because Hey, we got to prioritize me versus you. It was always how are we going to make this work? How are we going to work together and make this happen? And I can tell you, there were a lot of times that neither of us had a clue how it would work out. But we we knew we were we we knew we were together on it. And we we knew we would do what it takes to make it work. And it’s always worked out every single time. So those internalized fixed gender roles can stop you in your tracks and we don’t want that to happen.
Dr. Melissa Smith 34:41
In addition to the social, fixed gender roles, the other thing that comes up is this threat, threat fear, right. And so what happens like then this happens in a lot of places, but it can be very difficult for women to admit that they want influence that they want money. But they want success that they want the career. Right. So part of what happens is, we fear that this may come off as threatening. And what we do know is that power can be threatening to both men and women. But to have a woman asserting power can be really, really threatening, right? Because women are supposed to be the nurturers. They’re supposed to be the self sacrifices. And so, right there, there sets in this threat, fear. And there can be a lot of comparison and competition, when this shows up. related to the threat, fear is a fear of disconnection. And this is a big one.
Dr. Melissa Smith 35:41
So for many ambitious women, they fear they cannot relate to other women. And so they stay quiet about their ambitions, or they strain to relate in other areas that are less meaningful to them, which ultimately leads to feeling disconnected, because they don’t feel able to bring their sense of purpose to relationships. And I can’t tell you how many times I have experienced this, and how many lovely, lovely conversations I’ve had with other ambitious women about this challenge. Because to fit in, into the boardrooms, sometimes mean means that it’s hard to fit in, at a friend’s kitchen table. And that is hard. Because there can be comparison there can be competition, there can be threat, there can be fear, there can be intimidation, and ambition is intimidating, right? ambition can be very intimidating, power can be very intimidating, education can be very intimidating. And so what happens is that the ambitious woman will often go out of her way to be nice to be accommodating to be less threatening to ratchet herself down, let me just turn the dial down on me. So I don’t make others feel uncomfortable. I have felt that I’m done with that. Now, I’m done with that now. Because it’s not my job to to have others feel more comfortable in my presence. I’m not going to I’m not going to ratchet down who I am because of someone else’s issues.
Dr. Melissa Smith 37:31
And what we know is that when you’re trying to respond to others projections, right, they feel threatened. They feel, intimidated, it’s always a losing battle, it always leads to disconnection. But what I have learned is that when I can truly be myself, with all my ambition, with all my messiness, that’s where I can connect. And it’s never about intimidating others. It’s never about, you know, let me show you how great I am. But it’s also not about hiding that it’s about acknowledging that there are lots of there are lots of beautiful parts to to what it means to be a woman. Right, and there are lots of great ways to connect. And we don’t have to have the same level of ambition in order to be able to connect we can have that we have different directions that we’re going on. But we can have empathy, we can have compassion, we can have appreciation for that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 38:29
So the other challenge that happens is there can be a lack of mentorship and sponsorship. So women in corporate America are 24% less likely than men to get advice from senior leaders, right. So they do not get the support that they need to advance in their careers. And, you know, after the me to movement, this even got worse. So 60% of male managers in the US said that they were uncomfortable participating in workplace activities with women, such as mentoring, or one on one meetings or social outings because of this fear around me too. So I think it’s understandable that some men have this concern. But when they it doesn’t, that it doesn’t mean that you know their their responses helpful, right, because what men don’t realize is that by shying away from professional interactions with women, they’re still part of the problem. Because ultimately women are getting less access. They’re getting less mentorship, they’re getting less sponsorship, they’re getting less connection to these advancement opportunities. And so when women are not afforded sponsorship or mentorship opportunities, they are less likely to be recommended for the jobs that will really get them into high level positions. It just won’t happen. We all know that. The network is what it’s all about your network who you know, the connections you have the reputation you build. It makes a huge difference. But if women are not being sponsored and mentored, they are cut off from this access. So women are more likely to be left out of development and advancement opportunities. And in this scenario leaves women feeling left out or like an other at work. And this ultimately, this is where it becomes very insidious, this experience can lead some women to downsize their aspirations. Because they, they don’t see that access, they don’t see the opportunities, whereas they see these opportunities for men. And so what happens is, over time, a woman’s ambition can decrease. But it’s not because she didn’t have the ambition. It’s because all the doors have been slammed shot. Right, it’s due to that lack of support that lack of mentorship. And so if we look at the research of women’s ambition at work, so 18 to 29 year old women report being very ambitious, right, 65% of them describe themselves as very ambitious. And over time, the level ambition of ambition just drops, like a stone. So by the time women are 55, to 64 years old, their ambition is only at 46%, and 65. And plus that ambition drops to 36%. And if you think about these ages, you know, if we think about 45 to 65, that is a time potentially of high growth, high contribution, and really leading in powerful exponential ways that help people. But if they have had these challenges, where doors have been shut, their ambition drops by, you know, 30%, during this time, where they really could be contributing, contributing at a high level. And so this is why it matters. This is why you need to understand this, you need to understand it. For those who work with you need to understand it. For those who lead, you need to understand it for those you hire. And you need to understand it for yourself, because you can be your own worst enemy when it comes to ambition.
Dr. Melissa Smith 42:13
So now, what are we to do? Right, so let’s talk about some solutions. The first solution is right, and this is the name of the podcast, embrace ambition. So “understand that expressing ambition is healthy and good. So when we deny our ambition, it actually increases our risk for narcissism.” So here that you don’t want that happening, “because instead of pursuing goals in the real world, with meaningful connection, we nurse our grandiose fantasies, and avoid actual growth.” So that’s from Kauffman, his great book, Transcend, that came out in 2020. And so it is appropriate, healthy and good to express your ambition. So Abraham Maslow, he’s one of our best known psychologists, he’s, he’s added so much to our understanding of what does it mean to grow in life, and to self actualize? And he studied the suppression of healthy ambition, and the ways that this can actually stunt our self actualization, right? The ways it stunts our growth. And so this is what you know, he found and really focused a lot on when you suppress your ambition. First of all, you don’t reach your full potential, we’ve already talked about that. You fail to become who you could be, and you fail to contribute at higher levels. So your impact your influence for good is absolutely reduced. And the thing that I want you to keep in mind is that ambition is not about selfishness, it’s about service. And when you can keep that in mind, that can hopefully keep you keep you more grounded, in terms of purpose and in terms of embracing your ambition. Ambition does not have to be a selfish thing. And often it is not. So the other thing that happens when you suppress ambition is you fear growth. So experiential avoidance sets in your world starts to get smaller. And this is a recipe for both depression and anxiety. The other thing is, it’s a recipe for resentment in your relationships. So when you suppress ambition, you’re you start to fear growth, you start to fear goal setting and your experiential avoidance takes over.
Dr. Melissa Smith 44:43
So now, let’s look at the second solution. So the first solution is embrace ambition. The second solution is challenge social expectations. Now this is a big one for most of us. So are you or those you love trapped by stereotypes of how a woman should be, or what makes someone socially acceptable or unacceptable. So you could be, you could be in that trap. And so we want you to begin challenging your own stereotypes, and social expectations, and then find friends and colleagues who can join you in challenging these rigid gender roles. Right. So I know something that I’ve done is I’ve connected with other ambitious women. Because it first of all, it helps me to feel less different. It helps me to connect, and they can understand some of the challenges that I’m dealing with. And it’s a really powerful source of connection. So you, we also want you to challenge the need to fit a certain role. Are there different ways to lead? Right? So if you’re a leader, does that mean you need to be aggressive? Not necessarily, in fact, some of the best leaders are not aggressive at all, and encourage men to challenge rigid social expectations. Right. And so that’s good, too. So Are you challenging your social expectations and stereotypes for you? And are you challenging them for other people? So for example, letting it be okay that fathers are the homemakers? That’s a beautiful thing. And you know, there are many ways that our children really benefit from that. So are you able to increase your flexibility around social expectations? So one of the things Maslow said is that in our society, “we learn to put on a chameleon like cloak, a false modesty or humility when it comes to ambition. So in order to meet social expectations, we become ingratiating, appeasing, and even masochistic,” right, so we might have this false modesty, or humility. And that often comes up for ambitious people, because they don’t want to make others uncomfortable, right, so they kind of they hide themselves, they cloak themselves, to kind of hide that ambition. And so because of this fear of being superior, right, that can sometimes happen, the guilty ambitious individual actually becomes inferior, and throws away possibilities for contribution for the sake of safety. So right, this idea of like, I don’t want to stand out too much, I don’t want others to think I’m better than and so in that way, they will hide their ambitions, and they will throw away possibilities for contribution for the sake of safety for the sake of connection.
Dr. Melissa Smith 47:39
“So in the process, she stunts herself, and evades the task,” so this is from Maslow, “that evades the task for which her peculiarly idiosyncratic constitution fits her the task for which she was born, so to speak.” And in this way, Maslow said she is evading her destiny. Now, this has been, has come to be known as the Jonah complex. And it happens for both men and women. But the Jonah complex is a fear of success. And so hiding your ambitions, setting smaller goals. And I did a whole episode on the Jonah complex. So I will link to that in the show notes. So if you want to learn more about the Jonah complex, you can listen in there.
Dr. Melissa Smith 48:29
So now we want to move to the third solution. And the third, the third solution is know that you have the right to shine. So from Kauffman, he said, you may not be entitled to shine, but you have the right to shine, because you are a worthy human being. So again, it’s okay to be ambitious. So we want to challenge self limiting beliefs. We want to change the idea that ambition is a dirty word. It’s not start talking to your daughters to your family, about the the gifts of ambition and the value that it holds not only for yourself, but also for others because you can contribute at higher levels. And allow yourself to explore possibilities. Allow yourself to assert your needs. And here’s the big one stop being the martyr, because sometimes the ambitious, who ratchet back their goals. Part of the secondary gain of doing that is first of all, it’s safety and had connection, right so they don’t have to face their fears. But another secondary gain from that is they get to be the martyr. They get to be the the one that self sacrificing, they get to be the one that put off her hopes and dreams to support someone else. No one needs a martyr. That is it’s disastrous for relationships. So stop being the martyr. Also make time for yourself and your needs. What do you get excited about what sparks your Creativity. And for a lot of women, they don’t ever even look at that they don’t maybe believe that they deserve that. But you’ve got to make time for yourself and your needs, you got to make time to cultivate creativity, because this is part of those small moments where you will start to get connection to purpose, or ways that you could maybe contribute in new ways. And that’s not to say that the other ways that you have been contributing are not valuable, of course, they’re incredibly valuable. But you’ve got to make room for that creativity, you’ve got to stop avoiding things that scare you, the only thing we’re going to avoid is avoidance. And you need to take responsibility for your actions. So being intentional about the choices you’re making, and the potential consequences of that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 50:48
So now let’s look at solution four which is to understand healthy pride. And I think this is a really big one. Because for so many of us, we just see pride as a really, you know, bad thing, ugly thing that should be avoided at all costs. And there’s a strong religious overlay to that, as well. But what we know is that cultivating a healthy self esteem, and genuine relationships helps you to have a healthy pride in your accomplishments, it’s okay to be proud of your accomplishments. And recognizing that some forms of pride can be a productive force, instead of a deadly sin, right? Like it’s sometimes made out to be. And so the key is with how the power is obtained. So if you’re, you know, stepping on others, in order to gain more power, obviously, that is not a form of healthy pride. That’s what we would call hubristic pride. Whereas healthy pride includes healthy self esteem, and genuine accomplishment as right, you’re not pounding down anyone else to progress. And you know, those who cultivate healthy pride are happier and more resilient, they’re more creative. And so there’s a lot of value to that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 52:12
So now let’s look at solution five, that is to take a dual power approach. And so this, again, comes from the research of Dr. Laura Cray at Berkeley, she stresses the importance of adopting both masculine and feminine forms of power, right that you can, there are many effective ways to lead. This is known as the dual power approach. So where you can value leadership traits traditionally associated with men and women. And I will link to a podcast where I was talking about leading in the crucible of Corona and how female leaders have been very successful with this challenging situation. And it really does talk about this dual power approach and the value of broadening our appreciation in our understanding of leadership traits, right, that it doesn’t have to be totally aggressive. And so I will link to that podcast. And this is a really important way to overcome some of the fixed gender roles and beliefs that affect our perceptions.
Dr. Melissa Smith 53:20
Okay, and now let’s go to solution six, which is to cultivate a variety of connections. Now, I alluded to this a little bit. But here’s the thing, we are not one dimensional, and our relationships should not be either. So if you are ambitious, and you feel judged, be very careful that you are not also judging others. So how are you cultivating connections with others who you may have less in common? With? Right? So how are you taking your wall down and being approachable. And what I have learned for myself is that friendliness and humor go a long way. And that has nothing to do with me ratcheting down my ambition or cloaking it. But it’s just about being approachable because I recognize with my ambition, right, and some of my like my career path and education, that I can be intimidating, and I don’t want to be that’s the last thing that I want. I love connection, I value that and I value really getting to know people. And so what I have found for myself anyway, is friendliness and humor go a long way that breaks down barriers, being able to be curious about others help me understand your life and not that you would ask that necessarily, but tell me more about you right listening can be a great way to break down those walls. And so the the thing that I try to keep in mind is that while I take my work very seriously, I do not try to take myself too seriously. And this helps me to connect with others that helps to break down those barriers. was around, sometimes intimidation or that ambition bias. And if you, you know, if you’re doing what you can and find connection with some is still hard, because that can be a thing, you know, I would say just have some grace for both the other person and for yourself, what I have learned is, it’s not my job to convince others, that my intentions are pure, it’s not my job to help others understand my sense of purpose, and why I feel so compelled to the work I do, that’s, I don’t need to do that. And if I make that my job, in a, in an interaction, or in a relationship, you know, it’s just, it’s not going to be effective. Because sometimes people want to hold on to their beliefs. And that doesn’t necessarily need to be a problem for me, I can still do what I need to do. And so having some grace for yourself and for them, and sometimes what that can mean is that, you know, there can be a little more distance in a relationship because, right, like, there are barriers that may be there that you have nothing to do with, right, they’re not about you, you didn’t build them. But that wall is there because of others projections.
Dr. Melissa Smith 56:20
So, you know, all I would say is like, it’s okay, it doesn’t mean that you are a threat, necessarily. So you can take responsibility for your actions, and recognize that you can’t control whether someone will be responsive to your attempts at positive connection, right? Like you can’t, that can’t all be on you. And what I would say in those situations is Go in peace, Go in peace, because maybe, right like, you’re not going to be be able to have an opportunity for closer connection. And I have had that experience with plenty of individuals in my life over the years, who didn’t understand who didn’t get it. And here’s the big thing, who didn’t want to get it, who didn’t at least take the time to lean into conversation to have a conversation about about me, or my sense of purpose. They just saw ambition, and they put the wall up. And so you know, you need to understand this. And that’s why it’s so important to cultivate a community of folks, including ambitious folks who support your drive, who can support your energy and your goals. It can be so incredibly validating.
Dr. Melissa Smith 57:37
You know, one of the things that I did many years ago, after finishing my doctoral degree is I started a book club as a group of women, and they’re all sorts of women, many of them were very, very highly educated. And it was pretty awesome, because first of all, we were able to, to connect across across different layers, whether that’s around professional work, whether that’s around schooling, whether that’s around mothering, whether that’s around, you know, balancing all of it. And these relationships have seen me through, because there are opportunities to commiserate to empathize and to encourage, right, but what I would say about that is we really want to resist, and us them approach, right? So be careful about that. Make sure you’re cultivating connections across communities. So you think about business network, you think about accountability, group, coaches, colleagues, masterminds, retreats, all of these things can help you to cultivate a community of folks who can support your drive and energy. But don’t, don’t have those be your only connections, right? Because we’re multifaceted humans, we’ve got lots of lots of ways that we can connect meaningfully. And then the seventh solution is mentor and sponsor women. Right. And so this is for men, this is for women, you know, having having an organization, right, if you run a company, if you’re in leadership, you need to have a specific plan in place to advance women at work to help you overcome some of these barriers, right, these biases. And I’m not saying you specifically might have this bias, but the biases are real and they are pervasive. And so we need to be very intentional about that. And of course, create fair and equal access to sponsorship and mentorship opportunities. Are women going to be in the rooms where they can have these opportunities, right, like if your retreat is so focused on male dominant activities, that women aren’t going to feel comfortable, or they don’t know how to join, that sort of activity. You have got to pay attention to that. You’ve got to provide fair and equal access to these opportunities, right where everyone can connect and contribute in meaningful ways.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:00:09
So there you go. There’s a lot there with embracing ambition, but I hope that those seven solutions can be helpful for you, I’m going to review them really quickly. The first one is to embrace ambition. The second one is to challenge social expectations. The third one is to know you have the right to shine. Four is to understand healthy pride. And six is take a sorry, though five, is take a dual power approach, right where we’re appreciating different leadership styles. Six is cultivate a variety of connections, and seven is mentor and sponsor women.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:00:53
Okay, so head on over to the website, I will link to some of the research that I shared. Also will link to Episode 55, which is female leadership in the crucible of Corona, and also Episode 48, leading through crisis. And then Episode 14, which is all about the Jonah complex. So there you go. There are a few podcasts on that I’m recommending here on this 100th episode. So thank you so much for everyone who’s been along for the ride, I hope that you find value, I’d love to hear from you. So definitely drop me a direct message. I’m on Instagram, you can always email me at email@example.com I’d love to hear what you want to hear about what would you like to learn about on the podcast? Are there interviews that you would like to listen up to I want your feedback, I would love your feedback. And if you have an opportunity, please take a minute and provide a review. So when you provide reviews, more people can discover the podcast and so it really does help him do that at iTunes, you can do that at Spotify. And those reviews really help a lot. So thank you in advance. So you can head on over to my website for those show notes at www.drmelissasmith.com/ambition so a m b i t i o n one more time is www.drmelissasmith.com/ambition. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
Transcribed by https://otter.ai