3 Small, But Mighty Steps To Level Up From Ambition Burnout To Your Joyful Success Era

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Jan. 30 2024, Published 8:10 a.m. ET

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As ambitious women, we’re all in some sort of era. I mean, it’s flooding social meda: Beautiful 9-to-5ers heralding their “soft life era,” or the entrepreneurs in their “boss era.” And if you’re like me, an experienced leader in your field with multiple clients, demands, and responsibilities at work, you’ve been in your ambition burnout era, and it’s a slippery slope.

I’ve learned the hard way that it’s important to get beyond the journaling, push past the hustle aspect of ambition, and rethink my obsession with S.M.A.R.T., goal-setting from time to time. Recently, I’ve decided to, instead, take small, super-doable, everyday steps and I’ve seen more enjoyable and sustainable results that offer the potential for greater and more positive impact in the long run.

Here are three of those simple actions that you, too, can try in an effort to add ease, connection, and joy to your level-up journey:

1. Speak up and ask for that benefit/raise, but have an exit plan ready if you don’t get it.

///levelup x
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We read and hear this a lot in the women’s empowerment stratosphere. It’s regurgitated in a lot of career and motivational content targeted at women: Speak up! Ask for what you want!

The sad part about that is many of women are denied very valid, often doable, often long-due requests for time off, better pay, or expanded benefits. In fact, according to recent study, woman are asking for more and are getting turned down more than men.

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Beyond the systemic, legal, and institutional changes that need to be made (decisions and reforms that are the responsibility of corporate executives, company founders, government leaders and the like), I’d use my power of exit planning. Years passed by, and one day I woke up to find that my cautious, comfortable 30s had pushed out the fight-the-power spirit of my 20s.

When I began to feel the Sunday Scaries slowly creeping back in after going freelance full time (which defeated the purpose of taking that leap in the first place), I started making small power moves. I’d request to be paid at net 15 (instead of usual net 30 or net 60). I’d ask for more flexible hours, more money, and more resources to get my job done. I started paying close attention to how much my unique talents, experience, and voice were valued.

And the last, most important part of this step: I created an exit plan for each scenario if my requests were met with skepticism or quick nos. By the end of that year, I stopped working with or for any clients, brands or companies that I felt embraced practices or job expectations that didn’t align with my values on how to work at my best.

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Today, I’m fortunate enough to work with people who embrace self-care, flexibility, and employee satisfaction but this wouldn’t have happened had I not empowered myself years before.

2. Schedule (and show up for) virtual or in-personal catch-ups with the top talent and thinkers in your industry, even if there’s no immediate so-called advantage.

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I must admit that after surviving the pandemic and becoming a remote-working loner prioritizing checks and higher paying gigs, I’d become lazy with deliberately connecting with other actual human beings. And the more you climb up the ladder, the more lonely things become anyway. One expert notes for Forbes that unchecked ambition can even “begin to erode the foundation of professional relationships,” and that as leaders pursue “loftier goals,” they can “unknowingly distance themselves from colleagues and subordinates.”

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I used to find joy in hosting company-sponsored events for millennial professionals, and I was that girl who would consistently reach out to see if I could be of service or work with someone new. Oftentimes I’d set up lunches or coffees just to chat. (I mean, networking is about more than that very toxic one-sided, what-can-you-do-for-me song-and-dance.)

Recently, I decided to finally push the button: I emailed five people who I either hadn’t spoken to in a while (due to the usual reasons: busy, tired, or both) or who I’d been playing calendar tag with for far too long. I genuinely wished them a happy new year and asked them if they’d like to reconnect via Google Hangouts or in person.

Three people responded (which is totally fine since sometimes, some connections simply might not be re-ignited and aren’t meant to be.) While I still plan to follow up again with those who didn’t reply, the conversations with those who did were amazing. One ended with commitments to meet up or chat again and another with an exchange of updated contact information via WhatsApp (since that person had moved to West Africa, explaining why we’d lost touch for a while). The third included unexpected but invigorating talks of content creation and partnership. Hey, a win is a win.

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3. Invest in the help of a career coach.

I have a master’s degree in organizational leadership with a concentration in coaching yet still took for granted how great of an investment a career coach could be for myself. The reason I pursued the degree is because I wanted to level up in educating myself and getting credible training to expand the work I was already doing as a consultant. While some experiences with consulting clients were amazing, others taught me that I have a lot more to learn in order to one day have a full-fledged company that specializes in helping millennial women of color reach their goals using dynamic storytelling.

I’ve also found it beneficial to learn by doing, not simply by trying, thus learning from seasoned professionals actually in the thick of it all is a better bet. I can actually see their approach to their business and improve, through their mentorship and guidance, my own methods and standards of coaching (versus consulting, which is a totally different thing) in order to reach that goal, was significant.

Fighting Ambition Burnout And Scaling Success

We often read about scaling as a term applicable to business, but when you’re a leader in your field, it can apply to the way you approach your professional progression as well. I always want to be sure I’m constantly learning and staying on top of what will help me grow even further, prepare me for expansion of understanding, and equip me with what I need to serve others. I also don’t want to burn out in the process.

It’s easy to hit that ambition burnout ceiling where your work either gets boring, isn’t competitive, or becomes unfulfilling, so taking these simple steps can help you enjoy all your next transition in career advancement entails.

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By: Janell Hazelwood, MAOL

Janell Hazelwood, MAOL, is an award-winning journalist, speaker, editor, and strategist who has worked for companies including The New York Times, Black Enterprise, and Conde Nast. She's also a proud HBCU journalism graduate who enjoys serving global audiences of women professionals and entrepreneurs. She holds a master's degree in organizational leadership (MAOL) with a concentration in coaching, allowing her to pursue her ultimate goal as a lifelong servant leader to women professionals, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit founders.

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