The Truth About Ambition

So, women have made some great advances in education and in the work place in recent decades, but we still lag behind men when it comes to compensation, promotion, and executive-level management. This is true despite the fact that our nation’s top colleges are graduating more women than men.

Bernice Lavin, mother of three and high-powered executive of a multi-million dollar corporation, “has never felt that running a home made her paying job more difficult.” She says that the women in her sales force do a better job than the men, but she finds lots more women unwilling to take on responsibility and unduly fearful of making mistakes. She says ‘A lot of girls want to be secretaries, and that’s it.'”

Bernice’s point here is basically the same as Sheryl Sandbergs’ when she urges women to “lean in,” and exhorts them not to leave before they leave. Except that Bernice was speaking back in 1973.

Has so little changed?

Two high-power executives, forty years apart, looked at the prospects of working women and concluded that the thing that might be holding women back, is women.

And what if they’re right? What if, rather than being “held back,” women are choosing not to move forward?

Well, frankly, that’s okay. If I see a woman making a mature and purposeful choice to “lean back” from work in order to prioritize other things, I celebrate her and praise God that she has the opportunity to make that choice at all.

The problem is that some women, and especially Christian women, aren’t making that choice for themselves, they’re letting guilt make it for them. We’ve come to see ambition as synonymous with greed, pride, and selfishness. Offer a young mother-to-be a choice between her family and “selfish pride,” and she’s almost definitely going to choose family. Have you ever heard anyone (male or female) complimented at church for their “ambition?”

Ambition shouldn’t be a dirty word, and it doesn’t have to entail sacrificing family or other good things.

Yes, professional ambition can be selfish. It can be sinful, especially if it comes from the wrong place and especially if it gets out of balance in your life.

The Bible is pretty clear that “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:13.

But remember that God made you. He built every piece of you. As I wrote in Work, Love, Pray (Chapter 18), it’s no accident that you have the intelligence and skills to excel in the professional world. They were given to you by God to use for his service (Romans 12:4–8).

Not everyone feels a strong desire to advance at work, but if you do, it means that God made you that way. Ambition is a gift, not a curse. It must be stewarded. It must be focused with care. But it shouldn’t be crushed or ignored.

In his book Success God’s Way, Charles Stanley says, “In good times and bad times, on mediocre days and exhilarating days, in periods of joy and periods of heavy toil, our stance before the Lord must be, ‘Heavenly Father, you’re in charge. I have no success other than what You help me achieve. I trust You to order my steps.'”

Remember that God has a purpose for all of us, and He has placed us in and works through our circumstances. If He is prompting you toward success, don’t be afraid to follow the path He has drawn for you. And most importantly, don’t forget that He is the reason for it.