You know who she is. She’s the woman strutting down the street, briefcase in hand, checking her iPhone to make sure she’s not late to her next appointment. She’s the young woman running a blog, speaking on panels and getting published in the latest magazines. She’s the friend who’s always on the move, logging her accomplishments and checking things off her to-do list.
She’s the archetypal ambitious girl: driven, self-possessed and out for success. We all know her or someone like her; in fact we may even be the ambitious girl ourselves.
In our hyper-driven society, where 21-year-olds are heading multi-million dollar startups and seven-year-olds named Honey Boo Boo have television shows, it’s easy to get swept away in the current of working culture. It’s human nature to strive toward achievement and to the recognition that that achievement brings.
Social media and celebrity only confirm our belief that being successful and tirelessly working for that success is the norm. Songs like “Ambitious Girl” by Wale, the “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” personae of Diddy, the Girls Run the World mentality are all contributing factors to the breeding of a generation of young women laying claim to their de-luxe apartment in sky.
Fortunately all of this drive is not in vain. Black women are making strides in numerous areas; Melissa Harris-Perry’s’ political savvy, Shonda Rhimes’ television takeover, Gabby Douglas’ award-winning somersaults. These are shining examples and motivating testimonials to what is possible.
But they can also be carrots on a proverbial string that leave us ambitious women frustrated, burnt out and tirelessly pursuing a goal that vaguely resembles our true desires.
About two years ago, my 4 year old fashion blog had begun to pick up momentum and my readership was growing by the day. At the same time, I was working full-time at what could only be described as a dream job in digital marketing. It felt like years of hard work were finally paying off.
Since I was compelled and my Wonder Woman cape was a few sizes too big, I added more to my plate: freelancing and speaking at events. You couldn’t tell me nothing! I felt revered and working toward my goals was giving me an adrenaline rush and false sense of security. I was doing what I loved and inspiring many in the process.
While things were moving at their destined pace, looking around I saw bloggers surpassing me, receiving campaigns I wanted, attending events I wanted to attend, being featured where I would have dreamed to be featured. This didn’t make me envious, it just gave me a bigger push to achieve.
I upped my working hours, sacrificing sleep, because really successful people do it by any means necessary, or so I believed. I had bought into the ambitious rhetoric and put myself on the shelf in favor of pursuing my goals.
Then a funny thing happened, my intense all-nighters, lack of sleep and general surliness counteracted everything I was working for. I couldn’t chew what I had bitten off and the quality of my work was seriously lacking. Things finally rang clear for me when I found myself crying in my boss’ office, my shirt inside out (from a running on 4 hours of sleep) and my body and mind nearing exhaustion.
Someone call 911, Wonder woman had flatlined.
While my case may have been a bit extreme and more than a little self-induced it’s certainly not singular. According to research conducted by the Center for Work-Life Policy, 47% of women 30 and younger describe themselves as “very ambitious,” as compared to 62% of men.
While ambition is a lauded virtue, it is also a vice that can lead to fatigue, anxiety attacks, mood swings and other serious health problems if left unchecked.
So how did I reel myself in and come back from the brink? Sleep for starters, but also serious soul searching as to why I let my ambitions get the better of me. While taking a break is Kryptonite to a go-getter’s soul, I took time off and went back to life before it was in overdrive.
I cut back on the Twitter watching and social media check-ins. If I couldn’t be happy for a person without feeling the need to get back on the work horse, I unfollowed them. By no means was it a cure, but it eased the tension and pressure.
Most importantly, I asked myself the hard questions. What was I working so damn hard for? What did I want to accomplish, who was I trying to impress and who was I aspiring to be? Even more important, could I achieve those same things without working myself into the ground?
Ambition, when handled with care, can be the fuel we need to get us through the weeds and to the other side of success. With so much accomplishment in the world and stellar examples of what hard work can do, it’s easy to get sucked into the No Days Off lifestyle. Sure it works for meeting a deadline or getting a hard-hitting project done, but it’s not a way of life.
The truth is our ambitions are healthy and necessary, in reasonable doses. When left to run rampant they (and the rat race) can have us pursuing a goal at unsafe speeds. By working for the love of it and realizing that true success is a lifelong endeavor, not a fleeting trend, we can stop burnout at the door and check more than a few things off our list.