I gave a talk at an intimate dinner gathering for Founders in LA earlier this week. Funny enough, we were almost all NYC-transplants. After I shared a bit of my story and riffed on the topic of the evening – 2019 in review – we went around and had each of the women make an “ask”. I love this concept of an “ask” – we use it with several of our clients. It’s a chance to ask for (or offer) something meaningful, rather than mundane. A chance to be vulnerable, raise your hand for support, and be astounded by how many people are delighted to step once given a chance. This evening’s asks included advice on being newly engaged, support through new mom resources, tips for being heard in a room full of older men, leads for a CMO role with a socially conscious company.
As we made our way around the table and learned a bit about each woman’s story, the commonalities were evident. All faced tremendous amounts of self-induced pressure – to be the best at her craft, to heed her endless ambition, to elevate her relationship to new heights, to find the best ways to meditate to quiet her mind. It was a contagion of more, better, best. And, of course, the shadow side of stress, burnout, anxiety, and health challenges that follow this addiction to ambition. It all sounded very commonplace to what I hear in rooms full of high-achieving women.
One woman in particular stood out from the crowd of angst. She started her ask by saying she didn’t have an ask because she was very content with her life right now. She was a recovering Type A workaholic who had recently gotten divorced after 10 years of marriage. Since going through hell and back, she decided to take the year and spend every day doing the things she had once only dreamt of doing. I’m not talking Eat, Pray, Love – she still works a very demanding career. But the year was one of micro-choices that suited her. Taking a class, sleeping in, choosing faith rather than overthinking when making a decision, building a mindfulness practice, attending a show. Every day this past year, she has done something for herself that stemmed solely from desire.
This woman wasn’t sure if her ambition had disappeared, but it had certainly transformed into ambition for internal equanimity rather than external accolades. She talked about synchronicity and the way life was happening for her the more she chose herself. As she spoke, the room was enchanted, wondering what type of creature can wholeheartedly say: “I’m really happy with my life right now. There’s nothing I need. I’m complete.” Physically, she was radiant – glowing, calm, self-assured, at peace. It got me thinking about all of the unexpected and surprising gifts that come with repurposing ambition.
As I start noodling on 2019 coming to an end, I am taking a good hard look at my relationship to ambition. This year was one of (sometimes) blind ambition for me – more for the sake of more, yes because no isn’t an option, more because I love to climb new mountains. Thankfully, I love what I do so more is typically a wonderful more. But there is always a cost. Choosing to be of service to others at the expense of yourself comes with a price tag. I suppose my “ask” would be advice on how to travel a little less for work, build a few more roots and friendships in my new hometown, and develop a full-proof system to check that all of my “yeses” are truly a “yes”.
Those mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.Najwa Zebian
As you start reflecting on the countdown towards a new decade (what?!), consider your “ask”. What do you need right now that would really serve you? What flavor of ambition are you currently experiencing? What is the shape of your life – mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually? I want for you the glow that this woman had. The glow that reflected profound self-love, conscious daily choices of delight, and a willingness to say yes to you first. I won’t pretend to have the answers for you, I’m on the journey myself. But I do know that something about redirecting ambition is a mega clue on the scavenger hunt.