Thursday, 7 November 2013


Are you ambitious?  Is ambitious a good thing to be?  If someone described someone you didn't know as ambitious, how would you picture that person?

According to ambitious means "having ambition; eagerly desirous of achieving or obtaining success, power, wealth, a specific goal, etc."

This is Sanjit - he's our Happlyland businessman

We've decided he must be an economist
because he's wearing a pink tie. I doubt Sanjit
would climb over his Granny to get promoted.  
But he does intend to get promoted.
But that's not quite what it conjures up to me.  To me, someone who is ambitious, is someone who would climb over his Granny to get to the top.  And by the top, I mean the top of the career ladder.  I don't think I've come across 'ambitious' being used much when not in the context of paid work.

I know women who enter scones in village fairs every year.  They are very hopeful not only that they will win, but that they will have been seen to have won.  However, to describe them as ambitious seems too cut-throat.  The world of scone baking just isn't like that (children's clay-modelling is a different matter).

Anna Fels, writing in the Harvard Business Review, in 2004, on whether women lack ambition, found that rather, women were uncomfortable with the concept of ambition (the article is here):
 “ambition” necessarily implied egotism, selfishness, self-aggrandizement, or the manipulative use of others for one’s own ends. None of [the women interviewed] would admit to being ambitious. 
 Fels defines ambition as being a desire a) to master a skill, and b) to be recognised as having mastered it.  So what's not to like?  That's why the ladies are baking their scones isn't it?  It clearly doesn't have to be about paid work (although payment is a great way to recognise a master).

Do you ever listen to Radio 4's Woman's Hour?  They did a list of the most powerful women, and they've interviewed lots of them, and do you know what?  Most of those women dispute the idea that they are powerful, they say rather, that they are lucky enough to have been given some influence.  Cressida Dick, a very senior police woman was on Woman's Hour the other day, and she repeatedly stressed that she had not intended to rise so high, that she had been pushed and pulled into that position, and that she was not personally powerful.

I'm wondering if women are happy enough to master a skill, and happy for others to recognise it, if they must (the prizes at the village fair), but they're not going to stand up and shout about it.  And maybe not willing to take credit for working hard at mastering it.  No-one is going to go into a toddler group and say that they make damn good scones.  Are they?  Maybe I'm wrong?

I'm wondering if this is about women's fear of the crab-basket.  The idea (which I don't believe to be essentially true, although I can see how internalisation of patriarchal norms could have caused it to happen) is that in their struggle to all get to the top while helping each other, co-operatively, women will drag each other down.  Maybe women keep quiet if they think they can see a route to the top.  Maybe.  Of course, any statement of what 'women' do or what 'men' do is going to be a sweeping generalisation.

What do I know? 

I know how I feel.  I hope to be a good Mum to my kids, throughout their lives, to push them, catch them, encourage them to make the best of themselves.  I do not need external validation for that.  I don't expect my kids to thank me either, I just want them to be happy.  So I guess that's a wish, rather than an ambition.  Although that is the main thing I want in my life, so I guess I am lacking in ambition.

I really hope I can manage to write a whole book, and to get this blog more popular.  I would love to make a living as a writer.  I want to win the competitions I enter, and I want a real publisher to publish a book of mine, although I don't have a specific time frame.  I guess this is an ambition.

What's yours?

Of course, anyone trying to succeed in anything will have to face some failures, and this can really get you down.  But let's look at it the way Thomas Edison did when he said he hadn't failed, just found lots of ways that didn't work.  If there's something we really want to do we might eventually find a way to do it.  Or we might not, so we should probably not try forever.

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