Ask the everywoman Experts: I value my life outside work more than ‘getting ahead’ and worry I’m not ambitious enough

woman thinking at desk

Our everywoman experts respond to a reader who who is worried that she values work-life balance too much to be ambitious…


An everywomanNetwork member writes…

Although I have a great job, I am not particularly ‘go-getting’. It’s not that I have a lack of ambition—- more that my priorities are having balance in my life and being happy, not climbing the ladder. I often wonder if I should be a bit more ambitious, and whether I am actually being a bit of a bad feminist for not wanting to ‘reach’ all the time. In addition, I also feel that I am talked down to sometimes by colleagues who are hustling for the big jobs and I’m pretty sure I have been passed over for projects in the past because of the perception that I am not really ‘in the race’. How can I be more comfortable with my choice, communicate that positively and stay visible to my bosses so that I can be supported and continue to grow where I am?



Sally Miles

‘I’m reading your words carefully and while you say you are ‘not particularly go getting’, you ‘should be a bit more ambitious’ and that you are being a bit of a ‘bad feminist’, I would say you are someone who is categorically go-getting, absolutely ambitious and a true feminist. Not only would I say this, but I’d also hazard a guess you’re successful at it because you have clearly identified what success and happiness means for you.  Congratulations! The very definition of ambition is not ‘to get as far up the corporate ladder at the expense of anything else in life’, but rather the ‘drive to succeed or progress’ and I suspect that many people you come across in the ‘corporate’ world can only dream of having as much drive to succeed as you do which, has enabled you to be successful at achieving balance in your life, and feeling happy as a result. I’d even suggest you are far more of a trailblazer than you realise and that by holding your head up high and being openly proud of what you have, and continue to achieve, you will vicariously be gifting others the permission to be open about their ambitions for a life balance and importantly, set their own boundaries to help them achieve the same. As for those who may talk down to you or pass you over for projects: there will always be others who will be negatively or positively judgmental based on where they get their own sense of validation from. You can influence this by understanding that your projection of yourself will impact how others see you so…consider your own manifesto (elevator pitch) and practice it.  The more you do it, the more naturally it will come to you. Reflect on important interactions over the past weeks and look back on them as an impartial observer as well. Write down what you observe and consider what you would change or repeat and prepare in advance for the next opportunity or similar interaction that comes your way. And above all, take ten minutes to yourself at times to recognise the purposeful actions you take every day that ensure your continued success.  Smile, be and feel proud.’

Sally Miles is an executive coach and CEO of TWYO Consulting, which delivers business consultancy across executive development, talent management and HR strategy & operations.  



Tony Shafer

‘I would start with being more you. People often live their lives and their careers through the eyes and expectations of others. What will they think of me? How they will judge my decision to go down this career path? Our decisions are often dictated by other people’s opinions and less so by what we really want. We care too much about what other people think, but ultimately what we think is far more important as we have to live with those decisions, in our mind, 24/7. A lot of it comes down to really understanding what your definition of success is. The conventional definition may be to climb that career ladder, but if that doesn’t make you happy, and is not what you truly want, you certainly won’t feel successful and you won’t feel fulfilled. As Tony Robbins says, ‘Success without fulfilment is the ultimate failure’. Understanding your values and what is really important to you is key. The better you can understand that, the more comfortable you will be with your choices and the more able and confident you will be to communicate those choices to the people around you. Yes, some people may continue to judge you, but you will care far less about the judgment of others, because you truly know why you have chosen the journey that you have. You have not necessarily followed the traditional path in terms of ambition and if you feel that you are not getting the opportunities that others are because of this then try being more open and vulnerable with people as to why you have chosen your particular path and possibly getting curious with them as to why you are not being considered for things. Your confidence and proactivity will help you better understand others around you and in turn they will start to better understand you.’

Executive Coach Tony Shafar is the founder of Shafar Coaching.




Phillipa Waller

‘Rather than thinking that you’re not winning the race, I think you’re actually ahead of the curve, because what’s finally coming into the mainstream now is the idea that it’s not about the destination, but the journey. When people think of ‘ambition’ they think about what they’re going to get or where they’re going to go. But actually, the question to ask is, ‘Who am I along the way?’ What most people don’t do is think about the three P’s: people, pathway and purpose, which are more in alignment with what ambition will become now. Can you take people along with you on your journey? What’s the actual experience of your life going to be, rather than are you prepared to sacrifice that for some fantasy end goal? And are you connected to purpose — is what you do meaningful to you? If you’ve got those three, you’ve won the race already. You’ve already got a lot more clarity on your choices than many of your colleagues because you’re not blinded by just ‘getting there’, whatever the cost. I bet you’re probably really good to work with too: more collegiate, more balanced and more focused on people’s wellbeing — so pull all your strengths out and look at them. What you are modelling for people around you might actually give them a chance to acknowledge their own position rather than feeling bad about themselves. If you can own your position you’re giving such a gift to them, because so many people have to pretend that they’re ambitious in the traditional way because they’re ashamed to admit that what they’re really interested in is a quality of life, family and friends.

Lastly, no one’s way is wrong. Get to what I call a position of healthy ego if you feel someone is talking down to you, which is not about attacking or defending but saying, ‘That’s great and sounds like what you really what you want. For me, this is what it’s all about.’ And then go back to your strengths, so you’re not holding a polar position of ‘you’re either ambitious or you’re not’ but acknowledging that you are ambitious for different things. Go to your boss and say, ‘look, I want to put together this great team. I want to give people more responsibilities’ or whatever it is, but don’t just sit back because you don’t have the ‘I’m going to get out there to win’ type of ambition. This is the time to embrace this — forward-thinking businesses want people who have got an ambition for real purpose, real engagement, real people skills and real balance because those are the leaders who are going to retain people now.

Philippa Waller is Director and Co-founder of 4D Human being, a consultancy focused on excellence in communication, leadership and wellbeing.



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