Ambition Is Not a Dirty Word

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  • Edition: Reprint
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  • Copyright: 2008-02-12
  • Publisher: Crown Business
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Wouldn't it be great if you could be audaciously ambitious and happy at the same time? You can, and you will. "I'm here to tell you that all of your prioritiespersonal and ambitious career goals alikecan fit together harmoniously. I'll show you how, like thousands of women I've worked with over the years, you can make more money, earn the credit and recognition you deserve, have more power, and be as ambitious as you want to be. I'll show you how you can be ambitious without compromising your ethics and integrity. I'll show you that you can feel worthy and entitled to all of this without fear that you risk sacrificing your desire to have a full, happy personal life and without being afraid that you'll be less of a woman. It's worked for me. It's worked for countless ambitious women I've advised. It will work for you." FromAmbition is Not a Dirty Word: A Woman's Guide to Earning Her Worth and Achieving Her Dreams We women aren't advancing in our careers the way we should. We're not making the money we deserve or getting the fulfillment we desire. And this timeit's not men who are holding us back. This time we're doing it to ourselves, because ambitionfor usis still a dirty word. Debra Condren has coached thousands of women at every levelfrom those just starting out to the most powerful female executives in the United Statesand each one possesses the same fear: if she goes after her dream, she'll be seen as selfish, bitchy, a bad wife, or bad mother. But it's exactly this fear of ambition that has forced women to leave the best part of themselvestheir dreams, their great talentsby the roadside, rendering them less able to be the whole people they should be in every area of their lives. Condren has a new message and mission: to remind women that ambition is a virtue, not a vice. Ambition is the best of who we are. The real way to have a great life is to see ambition as a part of your value system to which you must give equal attention, along with the other priorities you hold dear, including your spouse, your children, and your friends. InAmbition is Not a Dirty Word, Dr. Condren offers fresh, powerfultools for reclaiming your dreams. Her eight Ambitious Rules provideconcrete, innovative solutions to the everyday struggles we as women face, like taking credit, deflecting detractors, and handling confrontation, so thatyou can become more powerful and fulfilled at work and more satisfied at home. Youcanredefine your ambition in the face of social sanctions and unapologetically go after your dreams without sacrificing the rest of your life. You owe it to yourself and the world to make the contribution you were born to make. Debra Condren will show you how to do it. From the Trade Paperback edition.

Author Biography

Debra Condren, Ph.D., is a psychologist, a business and executive coach and career advisor, and the founder and executive director of the Women’s Business Alliance. Dr. Condren received a U.S. Small Business Administration’s Women in Business Advocate of the Year Award in 2000. Her client roster includes a diverse list of Fortune 500 companies, and a wide array executives, professionals, and students between the ages of sixteen and sixty. Her advice has been featured in major media outlets including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and NPR’s Morning Edition. She lives in New York City and San Francisco with her husband, son, and stepson.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. xv
Ambition Is a Virtuep. 1
Wouldn't It Be Great?p. 3
What a Difference a Word Makesp. 22
Honorable Ambition?p. 32
Embracing Your Ambition Makes You the Best You Can Bep. 46
The Rules of Ambitionp. 53
Stop Ambition Sabotagep. 55
Ambition Rule 1: Be a Contenderp. 58
Ambition Rule 2: Get More Power from Powerful Advicep. 85
Ambition Rule 3: Don't Be Afraid of Confrontationp. 103
Ambition Rule 4: Make 'Em Payp. 117
Ambition Rule 5: Be More Irresponsible to Others-And More Responsible to Yourselfp. 141
Ambition Rule 6: Be a Power Brokerp. 164
Ambition Rule 7: Disable Detractorsp. 177
Ambition Rule 8: Stop the Fraud Police-You Deserve to Be Herep. 193
You Have Only One Precious Life-Dare to Be Greatp. 213
Lifelong Ambition Maintenancep. 215
Ambition Integration: Imbalance, Not Balance, Makes for a Great, Ambitious Lifep. 232
Dare to Be Greatp. 255
Acknowledgmentsp. 265
Notesp. 271
List of Contributorsp. 275
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.



Wouldn’t It Be Great?

She’s a staple of movies, novels, and TV: the hard-charging female executive 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 in 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 unrepentantly values a career: bitch. It’s our prevailing cultural paradigm: ambitious men are go-getters, but ambitious women are bitches.

It’s been open season on ambitious women for a long time. It’s been almost twenty years since Madonna made her then-outrageous claim that she wanted to rule the world. Despite her largely making good on her promise with an astonishingly successful multimedia empire, the media stories trumpeting her alleged foibles (trendily embracing kabbalah, creating new personas, kissing women to grab headlines, being the unconventional mom) outnumber tenfold the stories broadcasting her entrepreneurial triumphs. Jennifer Lopez, her contemporary doppelgänger, gets the same treatment, with far more ink spilled on her marital merry–go–round than on her business savvy with a successful line of clothes and perfume on top of her acting and recording successes.

When Carly Fiorina was ousted as chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, how many people, women and men alike, felt that she got what she deserved, either because she’d lost sight of the fact that she was a woman and had overshot her ambitious mark, or because she was being punished for forgetting her female roots and sisterly loyalties in her climb to the top? Oh—and Carly’s crowning deficiency? She chose not to be a mother.

On the other hand, each time the media reports an interview with yet another professional woman who has seen the light and taken time out for motherhood, everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief— finally, this woman has figured out what’s really important.

No wonder so many women simultaneously crave and fear their 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.

Can You Imagine?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could reclaim and redefine ambition in its most gloriously positive sense? Wouldn’t it be great if you could look yourself in the eye in the mirror and, with pride and without ambivalence, say, “I am ambitious.” Wouldn’t it be great if you could say that—and feel it—without cringing ever so slightly? Wouldn’t it be inspiring if you could acknowledge straight up, to yourself and to others, that you have big, wild, and precious professional goals? That you crave excellence? Wouldn’t it feel great to challenge yourself fiercely? To unapologetically derive a big part of your self- worth from your professional identity? And wouldn’t it be great if you could experience all that as a virtue, not a vice?

Wouldn’t it be great if you believed that you could be audaciously ambitious and happy at the same time? Wouldn’t it feel great to trust that you could be determined to achieve your career goals without compromising your personal life, but rather enhancing it? Wouldn’t it be so freeing to acknowledge, in your core, that your ambitious goals were sacrosanct, just as inviolable as other nonnegotiable priorities in your life?

Wouldn’t it be such a relief to know deep down that you are great at what you do? Wouldn’t you love to learn to shut up—and shut out—that nagging inner critic that sometimes warns, “Watch out …who do you think you are? Aren’t you getting too big for your breeches? You’re just an impostor heading for a searing humiliation!” Wouldn’t you feel fabulous if you could bitch-slap that doubting voice in your head that accuses you of not having earned your spot at the grown- ups’ table, of not deserving your share of the power, the recognition, the credit—and the money? And wouldn’t it be thrilling if you could then pull up to that power table with a relaxed sense of professional entitlement and an inner voice that says, “I’ve worked hard for this place. I’m worthy. This is my time to shine”?

Wouldn’t it be great if you felt comfortable making sure that you get recognition for your contributions without apology and without fear? Wouldn’t it feel great if you could walk into a meeting and know how to take credit for your work without feeling guilty about it, and also how to reclaim stolen credit that is rightfully yours? What if you had the know-how, confidence, and guts to confront someone who was shamelessly trying to steal your thunder? What if you could do that with grace and aplomb that earned you self-respect and the admiration of your coworkers? Wouldn’t it feel great to walk into your boss’s or client’s office and demand in a disarming but utterly firm way to be paid what you’re worth? Without worrying that you might not be giving them their money’s worth? Without being afraid that you’ll be fired or lose an offer, a promotion, or some other opportunity? And without always feeling that one way or the other you will ultimately have to back down, oh, so submissively?

Wouldn’t it be great to set free your aspiring, bold voice? To say, “I’m ambitious,” with pride, not reticence? Without worrying about what others will think of you because you know that you’re a decent, ethical woman who acts with integrity? Without believing that you’re a self-absorbed, aggressive, flat-out bitch who blows through the workplace leaving countless enemies in her wake? Wouldn’t it feel fabulous if you could finally reach for the moon, shouting your deepest-held ambitions from the rooftops without feeling guilty or believing that you’re neglecting a husband, a child, family, or friends? Wouldn’t it feel amazing to regard your determination to go after your career dreams as an attribute—as a tribute, really—to the greatest part of who you are as a woman?

Wouldn’t it be great to be amBITCHous?

Well, you can, and you should be. If you don’t, you’re letting the best part of you, the part that the world deserves to have you contribute, rot in a basement. Let’s get her out. This book will show you why you ought to be an ambitchous woman—and how to be her now.

Be More, Not Less, Ambitchous. Go for Harmony, Not Balance

This is most emphatically not a book about how to be unapologetically bitchy to get what you want. This is a book about redefining your ambition in the face of social sanctions and unapologetically going after your dreams. I wrote it to encourage you to be more, not less, ambitchous. I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to sacrifice—or balance—your ambition to have a great life; in fact, just the opposite is true. This book will reveal to you that the real way to have a great life is to see your ambition as a virtue—as a part of your value system that you must give equal attention to, along with other priorities you hold dear, including your spouse, children, and friends. Our culture encourages women to derive our sense of self from being selfless, by giving to everyone else first and foremost. Could there be a more confusing, contradictory recipe for self-satisfaction? No wonder we drop-kick our dreams! This book will show you how being the best woman you can possibly be comes from always staying true to your most ambitious self rather than feeling pressured, under social duress, to put your ambition last, after every other priority in your life.

I know you may not believe me that working harder to fulfill your ambitions will make your very busy and complicated life of juggling family, career, and social life easier, but it will. There’s another way of seeing things that will make you happier, more fulfilled at work, and more content in the rest of your life. There’s another way to think about achieving your big, inspiring career dreams and whatever else you cherish in your personal life. There’s another, more rewarding, and less stressful way of framing the big picture.

I’m here to tell you that all of your priorities—personal and ambitious career goals alike—can fit together harmoniously. I’ll show you how, like thousands of women I’ve worked with over the years, you can make more money, earn the credit and recognition you deserve, have more power, and be as ambitious as you want to be. I’ll show you how you can be ambitchous without compromising your ethics and integrity. I’ll show you that you can feel worthy and entitled to all of this without fear that you risk sacrificing your desire to have a full, happy personal life and without being afraid that you’ll be less of a woman. It’s worked for me. It’s worked for countless ambitchous women I’ve advised. It will work for you.

Why Should You Trust Me?

“Who is this ambitchous woman,” you may be asking. “Why should I trust her?”

I’m a business psychologist, executive coach, and career adviser 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 currently am the executive director of—the Women’s Business Alliance, an organization that has served as a motivational think tank for more than twenty-five hundred women over twelve 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 paths, to successful women in the corporate, nonprofit, 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 women as young as sixteen to women in their early sixties. Wherever they’ve been on their professional paths, 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 five hundred women from every corner of the country and between the ages of nineteen and sixty-five.

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 and fulfillment.

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 ambitchous 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 ambitchous 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 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 that most 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 are 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 purely and freely ambitious.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from Ambition Is Not a Dirty Word: A Woman's Guide to Earning Her Worth and Achieving Her Dreams by Debra Condren
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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