No More Nice Girls.
|One of the hottest books around right now is Debra Condren’s Ambition Is Not A Dirty Word?. It’s been reviewed in the Style section of the Sunday New York Times and Condren has just begun an advice column/blog on Huffington Post, one of the site’s Fearless Voices. Not just another gimmick, Ambition Is Not A Dirty Word? issues a serious call to working women: instead of seeing ambition as something to be ashamed of or to conceal, we should claim it as a virtue, cultivate it and use it to our advantage. She wants us to recognize that our careers are as important as our children, our intimate partnerships and our friends, and that for a woman to shortchange her ambition is every bit as damaging to her as shortchanging her commitment to her family would be.|
But she’s not advocating bitchiness at all. Sitting prominently in the middle of a bright red cover, the title is deliberately provocative, designed to sell books, for Debra quite rightly practices what she preaches, which is that we have a right to go after what we want and to get the recognition we deserve. But she also preaches how to go about it with integrity and without disabling guilt. Her tone is tough – among the Ambition Is Not A Dirty Word? rules that form the center of the book are “Make ‘em pay” and “Disable Detractors” – and that may alienate some, but this is a book worth sticking with, for the author also understands what it means to try to “live daily with the dialectical tension of loving your work every bit as much as your children and family.
Nineteen seventies feminist assertiveness training taught women to “go for it,” that we had a right to compete with men – that we could practice law, perform surgery, run big businesses. Condren looks around and sees that the “women can have it all” mantra has worked against us, for it’s asked that we define what “it” is. “Now,” she says, “it’s not the killer job and the great home life; it’s balancing the two, which, practically speaking, means less of each: women should be just thrilled to have a not-ideal job and a not-ideal life as long as they feel the two are balanced.” Instead of balance - “balance is bunk,” she pronounces - Condren argues for harmony, for integrating our ambition into the rest of our lives, making it just as important, not less, than the rest of our priorities. Her 21st century version of assertiveness training offers a host of examples from real women in various professions along with an array of very practical, concrete scenarios and strategies for “unabashedly going after your dreams” without sacrificing your family or your friends. She shows how not to let others take credit for your work; how not to be shy about asking to be paid what you’re worth; how to prevent someone from sabotaging your success; how to lead a team that likes and respects you; why to seek professional advice and be willing to pay for it. In an excellent final chapter, she offers a plan for sustaining our ambitions in the face of a complicated life. Life is long, she reminds us, and since what works for us now might not work next year, each of us has to keep working out our comfort zones from one phase of our life to the next. If balance isn’t normal – “imbalance is,” says Condren - then we need to expect that, accept it and live accordingly, without ever apologizing for the ambition that makes us who we are.