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Being an Ambitious Woman – Own It!

By Saku Abeysuriya

“Great careers don’t just happen.”

I’m a sucker for a great quote and this one is now top of my list. It’s stuck on the inside of my notebook as a reminder and motivator.  It often gives me pause for thought and makes me evaluate a potential opportunity from a slightly more “big picture” view point.

Being an ambitious young female, I’m always glad to receive an opportunity. I used to pretty much jump on something as soon as it came to me.  I had one goal only and that was all about learning, learning, learning! But I came to the realisation after a few frustrations that I had to get smarter about my choices. 

To help me, I now have a checklist of career specific skills that I feel like I need to work on and develop. I got this list by perusing job ads for jobs that I would like to have in the next 5-10 year period and identifying the key skills that kept cropping up.

I’m just at the tail end of my MBA and one of the top take-aways is the importance of self-reflection in developing yourself and your skills.  I’m a bit of a think-as-you-go kinda girl, which works really well for high pressure industries (hello stock-broking) but also means that I need to actively take time out to think, reflect, plan and just chill.

About Attitude, Tenacity and Motivation

I’ve been fortunate in many things: I have an amazing network of supportive friends and family, hard working parents who’ve made possible the opportunities I’ve had, and a pretty resilient personality.  I hardly ever say my BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) out loud, but it’s there, hovering in the back of my mind, not inhibiting me but certainly motivating me.

I confess, I do feel more than a little silly sometimes…I go through the who-the-heck-do-I-think-I-am moments all the time but then I remind myself, everyone has to start somewhere. The difference is having the right attitude, the tenacity and the motivation.

It seems to me that being an ambitious female is a lot harder than being an ambitious male. Ambition seems to be so much better received when it’s from a man. You get a sort of sideways look when you’re a woman. 

I can’t say that I’ve ever felt discriminated against for being an ambitious female and I’ve had great support from almost all my colleagues across all my roles. However, I have always felt like I had to be extra professional, extra hard-working and extra nice just to make sure that people understand that I want more and am capable of more than what my job was. 

I’m a bit of a girls-can-do-anything-boys-can-do-but-better kind of cheerleader. Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards AND in heels! I think we need to stop feeling like we have to work extra hard to be “good as” and remember that we’re more than capable and definitely as deserving.

Let’s face it though, it is hard to rewire your natural instincts. For me the trick has been taking a mental step back and trying to be critical in my thinking – “do I really have the right skills?” Yes?  Then why the heck not be heard?  Why not ask for more money? I feel like I deserve it.  And there it is ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls – WE DO DESERVE IT.

Fortunately for me, I’m pretty assertive by nature. It’s important to stand your ground but you can still be a nice person while you’re doing it.  Remember that these are NOT mutually exclusive; the trick, I’ve found, is to be reliable, flexible, and observant.  Don’t over think it; instead train yourself to grab those opportunities as a knee jerk reaction, don’t wait for them to be offered to you on a silver platter (you’ll be waiting a loooong time).

Ambition is not a Dirty Word

We’re living in unprecedented times. In all areas, we have strong female leadership on a global platform who inspire me, and I devour any articles and stories about these women.  I don’t think ambition is a dirty word.  Women on this list are ambitious and I would be incredibly honoured to be up there with them. 

I think it’s a trait that should be encouraged and nurtured in all women, no matter what the ambition is.  We don’t all have to be leaders of the free world but we should all want the best for each of us.  Being CEO is an ambition, owning a business is an ambition, having a family is an ambition.  Being ambitious isn’t bad and women need to be loud and proud about what they want.

What’s worked for me has been actually taking the time to decide what I want and these steps helped:

  • look up some job descriptions
  • make a list of what skills you want to develop
  • make some BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals)
  • tell  your network you’re keen for opportunities
  • be loud and proud “I have ambitions”
  • keep only people who are supportive around you
  • stay humble and be good to everyone, you  get back what you put out!

Remember, if you want something, go and get it!

And one last quotation for the road:

“If it’s IN you to climb you must — there are those who MUST lift their eyes to the hills — they can’t breathe properly in the valleys.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Emily of New Moon.

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