Mondays with Meg: Ambition vs. Aggression


“Be Confident.” Love these inspirational quotes

Like many college students searching for internships and jobs for the summer, I’ve begun that torturous process of revamping my resume and writing cover letter after cover letter. Knowing that I’ll be up against hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants makes me sick to my stomach. I look down at my resume and sigh. Is it enough? Are the internships and software skill-sets enough to impress an employer? Is my education good enough? Will I have to settle for a minimum wage job after grad school?

As a recovering perfectionist, I realize that the little nagging voice in the back of my head is completely bogus. I know that I’m qualified for the internships and jobs I’m applying for, but in such a cutthroat field (communications) during a very sensitive economy, I might need to take whatever I can get. However, I’m trying not to let these facts get me down as I send out applications. I know that I just need a confidence boost at times like these.

Sometimes it’s difficult for me to feel confident when I’m considering my future career, especially when I begin comparing myself to my classmates. I know that I’m an ambitious person. If there’s something I really want, I’ll go for it and put all of my effort into it. But when I hear classmates, especially female student, bragging about their skills and belittling others in order to get ahead, I have to ask myself, “What’s the point? Is it worth humiliating your classmates to prove your so-called superiority?”

I’ve been reading up on this subject as I struggle to come to terms with the idea of ambition versus aggression. One blog post from really resonated with me, specifically on the subject of women’s ambition. The author, Nisha Chittal, addresses the alleged “ambition gap” between men and women, citing the huge gender gap in leadership roles as “proof.” However, she notes that it isn’t women’s lack of ambition that holds them back–we’re just as ambitious as men–but it’s something else:

What I do notice every day is that most women have been taught from an early age to be nice, above all else. To watch your tone. To not be too aggressive. To not be too greedy. To share the credit for their achievements. To be modest. And as girls grow into women, they internalize those messages and carry the “nice girl” message into their careers. Most women I know constantly wrestle with how to reconcile their high ambitions with the conflicting messages they’ve received to be likeable, and not too aggressive.

I have to agree with Chittal here. I struggle with my need to be liked and my desire to accomplish. How often have I felt that calling up on an application seems “too pushy” or “too forceful”? How badly do I want to be perceived as nice more than qualified? Something struck a chord with me as I read this. I’ve noticed that men who take an aggressive stance to their careers are perceived as ambitious, while women who do the same are considered heartless and cold. Why shouldn’t a woman be able to pursue their careers openly with ambition? Why do we feel that we should be considered “nice and sweet” above all other things?

The more I write on this subject, the more conflicted I feel. How far is too far when it comes to aggressively pursuing a career? While I consider myself a “nice person” (but even I have my bad days), I need to let go of this need to have everyone like me, especially if it means that I am settling in my professional career. I struggle watching my female colleagues tear each other down in order to get ahead professionally. Women need to start supporting one another in the professional world while also letting go of the need to be liked by everyone. These conflicting ideas fail to advance our careers, our friendships and our own happiness.

Have any advice? I would love to hear your views on pursuing careers, especially the ladies out there! How do you balance the ambition vs. aggression line?

Happy Monday!




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