Whether you welcomed the dawn of 2019 in big celebratory style or with a quiet night in, the New Year brings a time of reflection and forward planning for most of us. As we leave the frenetic excesses of the festive season behind, many of us use our new found clear headedness to focus positively on the possibilities opening up in the year ahead by setting some personal and career desires and goals. Perhaps you do this every year – with varying degrees of success. We’ve all taken out that subsequently unused gym membership or succumbed to a glass of wine after a bad day halfway through January – and we know that statistically, the odds are stacked against us in making it to the end of the year with our resolutions in tact. So is it really worth bothering to make new goals at this time of year?
Yes! And it’s all down to ambition.
What is ambition? The dictionary defines it as the strong desire and determination to achieve success. And having this focus and self-belief comes naturally to some. For these people, keeping New Year resolutions and achieving their goals is second nature – they have a bold vision of what they want to achieve, they focus on working hard to achieve it, and more importantly, they believe they can achieve it. They are ambitious. Good for them! But perhaps you feel this doesn’t describe you? Even though you may be high achieving and extremely capable, perhaps you find this positive attitude harder to sustain? Perhaps you sometimes doubt yourself and your abilities, even though you constantly reach high standards and work immensely hard? (Have a look at my blog on Imposter Syndrome here). If this is you – then let me reassure you. Even if you are not naturally blessed with a burning sense of self-belief, you too can find, and learn to tap into, the dynamic power of ambition to help you achieve your goals – and of course, to help you keep those New Year’s resolutions!
1 – Examine whether you have inhibiting beliefs about ambition.
Did you grow up with a negative view of ambition from family members or school? Did you get the sense that ambition was somehow selfish, undignified, or even not a feminine trait? If so, reflect on where those beliefs came from and why they appeared. Find evidence to back the opposing view and do your own research. There are plenty of stories out there of strong, ambitious, female lawyers who are brilliant and loving mums. Find them, be reassured and be inspired!
2 – Look for a role model.
Find a person in your field who inspires you and embodies the values you admire. Use their successes and qualities as motivations for your ambition. There are so many brilliant female lawyers to choose from. The late Frances Murphy of Slaughter and May, for example, was a hugely inspirational figure, an outstanding corporate lawyer and mum who paved the way for women in her field.
3 – Embrace being ambitious.
Embrace being ambitious by telling yourself you’re ambitious. Say it out loud – “I am ambitious” and say it frequently. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious – it doesn’t mean you are aggressive or ruthless – it means you are focused and motivated. Say it with pride!
4 – Act ambitious by setting yourself a big goal.
Create an ambitious, audacious goal – the biggest you dare – and write it down. Say it out loud repeatedly for 7 days. You’ll be amazed at how positive and how much closer to achieving that goal you will feel by the end of the week.
5 – Review your past successes.
Think of a goal you achieved in the past that had seemed really ambitious – bold, audacious and terrifying. We tend to play down our achievements after we’ve achieved them. Try to remember how you felt about that goal before you achieved it. This is where writing a diary or journal is invaluable. (Have a look at my blog on how to start writing a journal here). What always comes back to me is my goal of writing a book. I recorded how terrified and excited I felt beforehand in my diary, and when giving a speech at my book launch party it’s the first thing I referred back to. You can hear and see how proud I felt having achieved such an ambitious goal. When did you last surprise yourself like that? Have you run a marathon? Climbed a mountain? Would the 20 year old you have considered the job you are doing now to be ambitious? Have you learned a skill that seemed impossible at first? All these things are positive affirmations of our abilities – and our ambitions. Use them to give you confidence.
6 – Stop fearing failure.
We so often avoid ambitious goals for fear of what will happen if we fail – that we’ll feel crushed, humiliated and lose confidence. But that’s only if we see failure as a negative. Being babyproof means giving yourself permission to fail, knowing that failure can be a positive experience. (Have a look at my blog on embracing failure here). Failure is not only an opportunity to learn and improve but is also a necessary stepping stone on the way to eventual success.
7 – Stop fearing success.
As my own relationship with ambition has evolved over the years, when I was honest with myself, I realised that fear of success was also a factor in my reticence towards ambition. “What if I am successful? What if get the job/the promotion/the client of my dreams.. what then? I might mess it all up, that’s what! I might not be able to cope, I might not be happy.” Eventually I realised that all of these “what ifs” were a circular pathway that would at best, keep me stuck, and at worst, would see me on my deathbed decades on filled with remorse and regret for a life I could have lived.
8 – Join a network of ambitious people.
Spend time with other ambitious people – people you aspire to be like. If you are around people who are focused and determined to succeed, you will be pulled along on a tidal wave of ambition. You will gain positive and dynamic energy from similar people who identify with the issues and obstacles you may be facing and who can offer encouragement and support. Women in Law London is a great networking group for helping ambitious associate level female lawyers progress and there are other local and more specialist groups too.
9 – Be authentic.
Make sure your ambition is authentic. It’s not just what you want but why you want it. You will only find real motivation in your work/life choices if you are authentic and stay true to your core values. Reflect on your past life experiences and try to identify your core values – when were you happiest or most energised? When disappointed or frustrated? Working out your why (see my blog post here) will help you focus your ambition on what really matters to you. And once you’ve worked out how to channel that truly authentic ambition, the sky’s the limit!
Good luck with your New Year resolutions and your broader personal and career goals for 2019. As we all know, achieving goals is not always easy alone. Are you looking for someone to hold you accountable to your life and career objectives this year? Have you considered getting a coach? I work with ambitious female lawyers who want to progress their careers while starting or growing a family. Get in touch to find out more! Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Caroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at email@example.com