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In The Age Of #GirlBoss, Do All Women Need To Be Ambitious?
Shahed Ezaydi explores what ambition *really* means
‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ is a question that a lot of us get asked during our working lives – myself included.
But it’s a question that has always made me nervous and sweaty-palmed, and tends to bring out an answer that I think sounds good and fine to the person asking it. Because the real answer to that big old question is I simply don’t know. When it comes to jobs and a career, I haven’t thought that far ahead because I just don’t have any major goals or the required ambition.
This lack of ambition has always been a part of me that I’ve learned to hide away from others. I’ve always been taught that the sky’s the limit and we should always aim high. But I’ve never had these big career dreams, and I often feel isolated and alone in these thoughts. If I ever mentioned at school how I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the future, or that I’d just be content with a decently paid 9-5 job, I was met with blank faces and strange glances. Apparently, that wasn’t a normal thing to want. It’s as if my peers couldn’t really comprehend that there wasn’t something big that I wanted to do with my life.
It’s as if my peers couldn’t really comprehend that there wasn’t something big that I wanted to do with my life.
And it wasn’t just friends, but family too. The side eyes I would get from my mum when I’d talk about my lack of ambition was a regular occurrence at home. It felt as if I couldn’t really make anyone understand why I didn’t have similar goals or aspirations in the world of work. The reactions I was met with made me feel so ashamed that I internalised this shame deep inside, and learned to just go along with whatever others were saying instead.
I’ve found there’s definitely a certain stigma around a lack of career ambition, but this stigma is especially heightened for women. Women have spent decades not playing an active part in the workforce, and they campaigned tirelessly to make this happen for future generations.
So, when I used to mention that I didn’t have any real career goals to the girls at school, their faces seemed to reflect the collective disappointment of all the trailblazing feminist women who came before us. It felt as though I’d committed a sin against all womankind.
And this is especially true in this age of GirlBoss feminism we find ourselves in, where women have to constantly work and hustle to prove themselves. A trend in feminism that has made me feel increasingly at odds with identifying and being identified as a feminist.
Does a woman have to work night and day on multiple projects to call herself a feminist? Not all women dream of becoming CEOs or ‘girl bosses’, but then where does that leave people like me?
Yet, over the past year or so, I’ve finally come to terms with my lack of career ambition. I’ve realised that actually, it’s ok for me to not want big things from work and my career. It’s ok if, in ten years’ time, I’m still in the exact position that I’m currently in. I’m content with the idea of working to earn money to live comfortably and then putting that work aside come 5 pm. A lot of us tie our work in with our identities, which can then have very real effects on self-esteem and how we validate ourselves. Even with a lack of career ambition, this is something I still sometimes find myself doing.
This realisation has helped me so much when coping with my anxiety, which took a big dive this year.
It’s perfectly alright to be still, and especially when this stillness has a positive impact on my mental health.
A realisation that was spurred on when I was furloughed earlier this year, in the height of lockdown, for a couple of months. That period of not working brought my anxiety levels down significantly, and it really got me thinking about how work and the idea of always moving forwards affects my mental health. We’ve all internalised the idea that if we’re not moving forwards, then we’re not progressing, so ultimately that must mean we’re failing. But if living in a lockdown for months on end has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t need to be moving forwards. It’s perfectly alright to be still, and especially when this stillness has a positive impact on my mental health.
I’ve also decided to just reject the whole notion of GirlBoss feminism, as it simply isn’t for me. Of course, I’m a firm advocate of women working and pursuing their dream jobs and careers. For some, this is what makes them happy and that’s great!
But, my acceptance of having no career goals or ambitions, and refusing to feel any shame about it, doesn’t make me any less of a woman or feminist. Not all women have to be ambitious. I was always taught that feminism is about having a choice, whatever that choice may be. That’s what all the feminists in history were fighting for – whether that be in relation to work, voting rights, or reproductive rights – the right that women are given the ability to make that choice for themselves.
And yes, my choice may be a little different from others, but in the end, it’s still a choice.