Healing My Wounded Perception of Ambition

When it comes to our dreams, most of us fall into one of two camps. We’re either charging forward, meeting challenges as they come, despite the fear or insecurities we might feel. Or we’re crippled by those fears, always waiting on just the right moment to start, and often stalled out before our dreams come to fruition.

I was solidly in the second camp for many years; I may still be there on occasion. But once I began having conversations with other women about the ambitions, hopes and dreams God has placed on their hearts, I began to see how ambition and fear are intricately connected.

If it were not for my desire to encourage women to pursue their God-shaped dreams or to share their stories of victory and hope after taking steps toward their dreams, I wouldn’t have faced my own fear about what ambition might look like on me.

Before attending the Denver Institute for Faith and Work event, Ambition: Living with Drive & Devotion, in early March, “ambition” was not a word I would have used to describe my dreams. It feels self-serving, prideful or arrogant, especially for a woman — well, especially for me. Because the hypocrisy is, I admire friends who have successful careers, who are using their gifts and living lives to the full. It’s okay for them, but not for me?

My notes from the event reveal my confusion about this term that is often viewed as a compliment for a man and an affront (at best) or an assault (at worst) when identified with a woman.

Though I speak with women every week on my podcast about their aspirations to pursue an idea, goal or intention God has placed on their hearts and champion them and their work in the world, this word—ambition—still leaves a strange taste in my mouth. That is, until a few weeks ago.

New Narratives for Ambition

I appreciate the excellent, thought-provoking opportunities that DIFW provides for followers of Jesus to contemplate and discuss topics important to our work, our culture and how we live out our faith in the places the Lord has us. The Ambition event was no exception.

In her talk on “Reclaiming Ambition,” speaker Carolyn McCulley referenced the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 and our tendency to look at what we’ve received and compare it to what others have received. In doing so, we take our eyes off our responsibility, which is to invest what we’ve been given.

We easily get caught up in wishing we had a talent another woman has or seeing what another has accomplished and wanting the quick-fix or the shortcut so we can get to that finish line, too. But Carolyn’s (and the Bible’s) reminder to see myself as a steward of the gifts God has given me frees me up to walk my own road, not someone else’s.

I also deeply appreciated Alexandra Kuykendall’s suggestion that God has given each of us a unique assignment in the world. Our job is to figure out what that is and be faithful to live it out. “Our highest calling is to serve God where He puts us,” she said. And whether that’s in a career or working in the home to raise a family — and for a lot of us it’s both — my job is to do those things faithfully and responsibly based on what I’ve been entrusted with. Again, there’s no value in comparing what I’ve been given to what God’s given another person.

Finally, one of the panelists proposed reframing the word “ambition” if semantics are getting in the way. What if we used the words “abundant,” “fruitful,” and “treasure” instead? This, too, was a salve on my wounded perception of ambition.

The Comparison Trap

As a new parent, I am especially convicted about the comparison trap that women are so vulnerable to especially moms. When we allow our minds to wander unchecked, the flood gates open with questions like: What is she doing over there? How does she have time for all that? Why does it seem so easy for her? She always seems so put together; why am I such a hot-mess?   

These voices are poison to our souls, to the dreams God has given us, and to His mission here on earth. And we so easily trap ourselves and other women when we choose to listen to the voices instead of His truth. And suddenly, “ambition” becomes tainted and redefined as something to be feared or criticized.

As I ask God to change the brokenness in my own heart, I want to encourage women to see the beauty, creativity or strength of another woman as a gift from God, not fuel for comparison or fear. I want to remind women to fight the comparison trap and assure them that if God gave her good gifts, He also gave good gifts to you. As Alexandra shared that night, your job is to figure out what those gifts are and keep taking the next step to use them in the world.

Recently, I’ve pursued freedom from comparison. In my day-to-day work, this looks like asking God to give me an accurate view of myself and the women I encounter. A helpful alternative to comparison, for me, is to look at another woman as God’s beautiful creation and as a potential friend and ally instead of seeing her as a competitor. This often entails speaking out loud (or quietly to myself, depending on the circumstances) to celebrate how God created her and the talent, beauty, skill or ease with which she brings her gifts to the world.

I get to practice this each week as host of The Devoted Dreamers Podcast. Sometimes I hear from listeners who are struggling to figure out what their God-shaped dream is. They see what another woman has done and wonder if they have anything to offer because their gifts don’t look like hers.

But the goal of the show is not to glorify her or her accomplishments and leave the audience baffled as to how to “get there” with their own dreams. Instead, it’s about normalizing the grit, prayer, obedience, trials and challenges we will often face when we are walking with God toward the dream He’s given us.

Ultimately, my hope is that the podcast would encourage us all to live more fully in how God created us and, whatever our dreams, that the ways we live them out would bring Him more glory.

Desires and Dreams

My biggest takeaways from gathering with other women to discuss ambition include an assurance that this is not an unbiblical concept for women (or anyone) and a reminder that the Lord knows our hearts, sees our desires, and delights in giving us good gifts that we can use to make Him more famous. Numerous examples from the Bible depict ambitious men and women who rightly invested the gifts God had given them even imperfectly to serve Him and work for His Kingdom.

Since the event, the challenge for me has been to put aside fear of man or fear of being seen as ambitious, because giving in to fear not only halts progress toward my dreams but also diminishes my view of God.

God continues to use these conversations to remind me that He knits desires and dreams into our hearts, and thus the gifts, talents, life experiences, hopes and ambitions He gives us are not to be feared or exalted. They are only tools to be used for His purposes.

A big thanks to the DIFW for the opportunity to explore this topic. As a result, I am more at-ease and assured that my desire to help women celebrate their ambitions is much-needed in today’s world.