You Were Not Taught To Be Ambitious, But That Shouldn’t Stop You

ambitious millennial women


Sep. 7 2016, Published 3:30 a.m. ET

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When you were a little girl, chances are you were driven. You wanted something, you asked for it, repeatedly, undeterred that you were being told no. When you felt like drawing, painting, singing, or playing sports you didn’t think twice of whether anyone liked it or if it was going to be perfect. You just went for it.

As you get older, that drive and carefree thinking gets snuffed out of you and replaced with the desire to please others (so you don’t ask for what you really want out of fear of not being liked). You become overly humble to the point where you don’t like to talk about yourself or your accomplishments. Last but not least, you become obsessed with perfection so you don’t make a move unless you know it’ll be well received.

“I feel like if you’re a girl, you have to show some kind of insecurity to show that you are an okay person, and that you’re not too sure of yourself because that would make you threatening to other people, and people don’t want to be threatened by a girl,” shared Tavi Gevinson actress, and founder of Rookie Mag in her Makers interview.

So by the time you are an adult, you are no longer as ambitious, confident and carefree as you once were. Instead, you’re self-conscious and convinced you are an imposter.

There’s a reason why women experience this abrupt change in our confidence. Here is how it’s holding you back from enjoying your dream career, and what you can do to take back control of your greatness.

Society’s message to girls

While growing up, little girls get a totally different message from little boys on their expectations and limitations.

During the Always #LikeAGirl Confidence Summit last year, Lauren Greenfield, an Award-Winning Documentary Filmmaker and Always #LikeAGirl Film Director said:

“Girls feel pressured to follow certain rules that don’t apply to boys. They often hear phrases like ‘girls aren’t strong, girls aren’t brave,’ which shaped their understanding of their role in the world or sometimes confused them because they saw themselves otherwise.

Many of them were told that a sport, instrument or course of academic study was not for girls. And sometimes this caused them to quit the thing they loved or stop trying new things. They talked about shrinking back in response to some of these words.”

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The sad truth is that we women are not encouraged to be ambitious go-getters. We are raised to be pretty, nice, smart–but not too smart, and to be caretakers. That’s it.

What type of praise did you get as a child?

Think back to when you were young. Were you constantly told how pretty and smart you were?

Now, it seems harmless to say “You’re so pretty. You’re so smart.” But Greenfield says, “Research shows compliments given, even well meaning, like you’re so cute or adorable make girls feel the expectations on them are only about their appearance and not on their abilities and not what’s inside.”

When you only praise skills, it’s called fixed praise, and a person who receives this type of admiration tends to believe their abilities are established and set for life at birth. So, you might think you’re either good at something or you are bad, and there’s no changing that.

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Over time, that little girl who always received fixed praise grows up to be a woman with a fixed mindset and believes she is only smart. As a result, she doesn’t want to risk looking dumb, so she will not take any risks to jeopardize that belief. She is always seeking perfection. When she comes across challenges they are a verification she’s actually an imposter, waiting to be exposed. Sound familiar?

If it does, now you know the reason you are not stepping forward, going for those promotions, contributing in meetings and sharing your ideas. You are protecting your reputation of being seen as smart, and not risking looking like a failure and letting someone down.

Your abilities are not set in stone

If you’ve been believing you can’t get any smarter, skilled or even change your personality, you’re wrong. You can absolutely change by developing a growth mindset.

A person who has a growth mindset most likely grew up being praised for their effort, process and actions. They heard phrases such as “You studied so hard for that test. You practiced so consistently for that sport.”

When you have a growth mindset, you believe your abilities can be developed, and you see challenges as growth opportunities to learn and improve instead of indications of failure.

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In a study on child development by Elizabeth Gunderson, Ph.D. an Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology at Temple University, she found that parents of children as young as one to three years old gave process praise to little boys more than to little girls. So girls are less likely to get the type of praise that helps them remain resilient in the face of a challenge.

Just because the cards have been stacked up against us, doesn’t mean we have to settle for the hand we’re dealt.  

Recognize you have a problem

When your mind starts replaying failures from your past, it’s time to skip the track or turn it off. How?

Sing a song, scream, start describing what’s around you out loud, do anything other than allow your thoughts to play out. The goal is to interrupt your familiar path of getting caught up in everything that has or could go wrong.

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See failure as a jumping off point, not a finish line

What kills ambition with women is that we tend to deem not getting what we want as us being a complete and utter failure. I get it, it’s frustrating not to get what you want. Let’s flip that “failure” around to instead see each disappointment as an opportunity to learn to do something better.

Accept that change is not easy

We’ve been conditioned to put others first, and keep our heads down. So asking for a raise, having the confidence to start a business or speaking up in a meeting is not going to be a walk in the park, and will feel quite unnatural.

If you want to be ambitious, you have to get out of your own way, fight past these stereotypes, and societal limitations. Stop replaying mistakes from the past, and focusing on what you haven’t achieved.

We’re waiting for you.

Keeping your genius to yourself is hurting us. You could be the one who creates cures for diseases, develops an invention to move the world forward, or becomes the leader we so desperately need to create a more peaceful world.

We need you. I need you. You need you.

Ambition Delivered.

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