Posted on August 4, 2014
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Chartered psychologist Kimberley got in touch with us soon after competing in the Great British Bake Off final last year, when we had a #WISPchat on why confident women in the spotlight get so vehemently criticised. As well as writing us this guest post on her perceptions of ambition, she's participating in our panel discussion on 'Why is ambition still a dirty word for women?' on 12th February at LSE... to reserve your place, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I knew at 16 that I wanted to be a psychologist. I wanted to understand the mind – my own and those of others – and be of use and value to society. I funded myself throughout my training, working two, sometimes three jobs in order to cover my tuition fees and living costs. Fuelled by a combination of fear and determination I pursued that goal to qualify at a comparatively young age and begin my career.
When I think about it now (I mean, right now, in order to write this piece), probably the most impressive thing about the whole endeavour was not the weeks spent in the library writing essays nor the cumulative hours on my feet serving coffee, but the ambition itself. The thought. And permitting myself to allow that thought to be a possibility. As a young black girl growing up in poverty in East London it would have been easy, perhaps understandable, for me to have curtailed my ambitions. It would have made more sense for me to have looked around, noticed that no one I knew had been or was going to university and decided that that meant that it wasn’t an option for me.
So, ambition, for me, is synonymous with courage. It is the courage to believe that a thought can be realised. It is the courage to break both the real and imagined boundaries around what is expected or acceptable. It is the willingness to try, and to fail, to shrug and try again.
Individuals with ambition are the essence of social progress and women must be part of this process. But the lesser-discussed counterpart of ambition, the other side of this coin, is sacrifice. No ambition is realised without sacrifice; without time spent away from friends, family and children. And this is when things become difficult for women. What is legitimate for a woman to sacrifice in pursuit of her ambition? Social and biological edicts let women know that children/family life are not, and women are therefore encouraged to attempt both, often then left with the pervasive guilt of feeling as though she is a failure in both professional ambition and motherhood.
I posit that two things have to happen for the career playing field to be evened up for women. One is that women must become reconciled to idea that something has to give, and make ourselves okay with that. Not being okay with that is like writing your own invitation to the ‘Lifetime of Guilt and Burnout Party’. The other thing that must happen is for society to accept that either choice is legitimate and that neither is more culturally valuable than the other.
So what does Kimberley see in the mirror? 'Someone cheerfully in the process of becoming. No absolutes. No finished articles. No rules. Always learning. Always. xx'
What do you see? Tell your story today.