I don’t want to be a board director.
Kind of ironic, considering that I work for Catalyst, an organization dedicated to helping increase women’s representation in upper management. But that’s not what I want for myself, and that’s totally okay. It doesn’t mean that I’m lazy, or that I’m not ambitious. I want to grow, and learn new things, and excel in my career—but the top is not the only place to be.
We’ve all seen the endless articles about what’s wrong with women, whether it’s lost confidence, purported lack of ambition, or something else (choose your own character flaw!), but I know plenty of women like me who have consciously said, “I don’t want to be the CEO—and that doesn’t mean I’m not ambitious.” Running a company is extremely time-consuming, and it’s not what everybody wants—nor does everyone possess the particular set of talents required. Some people need and want more free time than others, whether they are spending it on creative outlets, athletics, family, or any number of other personal pursuits.
I’m ambitious about a lot of things. I’m a very ambitious athlete, for instance, and have accomplished a great deal in my running career. I was recently named a member of the Pearl Izumi Champions Running Team. I was also named an ambassador and editor for the Dirtbag Running Team. I was the fifth woman to complete the USATF National Championships 24-hour race in 2014, and the second in 2013. I’m Race Director of a very popular 50K ultramarathon, the Black Rock City 50K. I also organized a 50K ultramarathon looping around New York City that finished in front of the UN.
Do I lack ambition? Hardly.
Saying that ambition comes in one size only—or that it means a burning desire to reach the very top of your company—is limiting. Not everyone can be on the fast-track to be CEO.
Even when I’m racing an ultramarathon, I don’t consider myself a failure if I don’t win, especially if I ran my personal best time (or as hard as I possibly could that day) and had fun doing it. In the same vein, not becoming—or aspiring to become—a CEO doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
As a graphic designer friend recently told me, “They say women can’t have it all…but I am having it all. I have my family, a job I love, and a great community. My definition of all is just different from other people’s.” So true.
Instead of letting others define what ambition means, or what success is, let’s create our own definitions. They might change over time, and that’s okay. What’s important is that we remain ambitious about the things that matter to us, and never give up on our own personal goals and dreams.
And if I end up being a CEO someday after all—well, that’s just an added bonus.
But I know it’s not the only goal worth having.