I recently came to my college campus and reconnected with my professor/mentor. One of the topics we talked about as we caught up with our life is ambition vs ambitious. It started with my story: “[…] I finally accept the fact that I’m ambitious.” She disagreed with my statement. She never thought that I am ambitious. She believes I have ambitions.
By definition, “ambition” means a strong desire to do or achieve something. Thus, “ambitious” means having or showing a strong desire and determination to succeed [from Lexico.com]. But looking over the example below: ambitious have a negative connotation compared to ambitions.
The definition of ambitious
The definition of ambition
My professor said something similar. She told me that I have ambitions which means I have lots of things I’d like to achieve or experience. On the other hand, she believes that I am not ambitious in a way that I don’t have the drive to “conquer” the world. Being ambitious sometimes get associated with being ruthless, while having ambitions connotes having a purpose.
The conversation has put me in a reflection mode and allowed me to rethink my beliefs. It reminds me of one of my (felt-like) lifelong struggle with my identity: being ambitious. Growing up, I came to the conclusion that being ambitious is not attractive – and almost intimidating – for women to embody.
I heard (hopefully) well-intentioned advice from male friends back in college that goes along the line “Don’t be too ambitious. Men will be intimidated.” They probably didn’t remember they ever said it seven years ago, but it’s still clear as day for me. I, of course, let them know that I found it illogical to compromise my future for someone who could be easily intimidated by something so intrinsic.
It also implies a belief that women with ambitions can’t compromise, a view I strongly disagree. I personally need to know what I compromise myself and my future with. It’s not too much to ask, right?
Though there is a certain image that comes for women with ambitions and what we would like to have in our lives. It was quite confusing to grow up with some ambitions and also wanting to be a mother. It almost feels like those two things does not go together, that a (future) mother can’t have ambitions. My friend went saucer-eyed when I told them the only long-term ambitions that I currently have is to be a wife, a mother and to build my own family. It was hard for them to believe me.
I believe having ambitions is essential in our existence. One of my fondest memories of college was my traveling days for conferences and competitions. I had a conversation with a college friend a couple of weeks ago on it. She never imagined that I never planned things ahead to travel to 11 countries in the span of four years of college, and was just simply living in the moment.
I told her that I was not even brave enough to write “traveling the world” as my goal in the campus orientation assignment because I thought it was “too ambitious.” I wrote that I wanted to travel to Asia and Australia in my four years of college. Never did I know, I never been to Australia until now, but I went to 11 countries in Asia, Europe, Middle East and North America in those four years. These things were unlikely to happen without some ambitions.
I personally believe that ambitions are what drives us to move forward. Ambitions also strengthen our capacity to push barriers. Ambitions allow us to make things happen for ourselves.
It took me sometimes to unlearn the belief that it’s not okay to have ambitions and that ambitions does not look attractive for women. I came to realize that having ambitions is wired in my DNA. The only way I could break free from this emotional labor is by fully embracing my authentic self which includes my ambitions.
Now, I also believe that the relationship I deserve in my personal and romantic life will love me for my authentic self and embrace me for my ambitions. It’s also the kind of relationship that is worth keeping.