The Dirty Word for Women

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“I think women should be just as ambitious as men, and be proud of it,” fashion designer Tory Burch, who became a billionaire less than a decade after founding her eponymous company, recently told Stanford business school. She was talking specifically about entrepreneurship, but it applies to women and work in general.

For many women, easier said than done. “Ambition” is still a four-letter word. It’s also a favorite subject for Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO whose new book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” is coming out next month. She’s fond of citing research showing that 36% of women identify themselves as ambitious in the U.S., a far lower percentage than in countries including India, Brazil and China.

Ambition is about desiring more success for yourself—and maybe it’s that little pronoun that gets in the way for so many women. Ambition is about you. You getting more money, more sales, more prominence, more applause. If just reading that list makes you feel a little icky, rest assured you’re not alone. For generations, women have been taught that their lives aren’t about them. They’re about husbands, parents, children—almost everyone besides themselves.

When that little voice in your head starts saying, “Who do you think you are, to deserve more?” Feel free to retort: Who do you think you are, to say I don’t?

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