Hey goal achievers, Kristin here. Recently, I had the privilege of discussing a topic that is near and dear to my heart – ambition. I invited two accomplished and ambitious women I’ve respected and admired for a long time to join me on the Elite Achievement podcast. I’m excited to share part of our conversation in this blog.
Lesle Griessel is the owner of LongView Leadership and is on a mission to joyfully inspire and empower people to achieve results on purpose. Lesle pioneered an executive-level leadership path for herself in a Fortune 200 firm, and she is passionate about leading others to succeed in their own careers. Lesle is one of Kansas City’s 40 under 40, a marathon runner, and a yoga student. She loves her husband and two soccer-playing daughters.
Nicole Kalil is a speaker, host of the This is Woman’s Work podcast, a coach, wife, and mama. Nicole’s work centers around removing the roadblocks, biases, and challenges that trailblazing professional women face so they can thrive as their authentic selves.
The three of us connected because of a gap we experienced, along with being told we were “too much.” But rather than shrinking away from our ambition, we found common ground and belonging with one another to honor who we are. When it feels like the world tells us we shouldn’t be so ambitious, we support and encourage one another, and I am excited to jump in. I ask Lesle to start by sharing her opinion of what ambition really means.
“I think that ambition is one of those questions that people could define on their own terms,” Lesle begins. “But to me, ambition wraps up a lot of things like excitement about the future, a desire for growth, a desire for learning, and wondering how I can make a big difference. How I can have a breakthrough in life and better serve. How I can get paid for doing things that I love to do, and be in touch with this whisper or voice on my heart that I know is there and I know will bloom into something special. That’s what I think ambition is – I’d be able to identify it in terms of your inner voice. And then add a little head to heart to say, ‘How can I do that?’ It starts there. I don’t know that the how is always clearly defined, but ambition itself is a little bit of a heart’s desire to want to do something great.”
I ask Nicole, as she thinks about ambition, what it means to her to honor your ambition.
“Before I answer that,” says Nicole, “I want to give a little bit of background. I experienced, for a very long time, the feeling that I was too ambitious, very specifically, as a woman. I experienced what was celebrated, and my male counterparts used it against me a lot. And you know, the ‘B’ word in leadership, the questioning about if I would start a family, when I was going to start a family, when I was going to get married – it felt like a lot of noise. I really bought into the lie for a very long time that as a woman, or at least as a ‘good woman,’ that I was too much, too ambitious, too opinionated, too focused on work, too driven, too ‘fill in the blank.’ So, for me, as you ask about honoring my ambition, it started first as accepting it! I first had to accept my ambition and understand that that’s what was true for me, regardless of what anyone else thought or what anyone else felt. There was this desire, as Lesle said, that I not only could but that I should accomplish certain things that were in direct conflict with the noise that I was getting from the outside. So, for me, it was accepting. And then it was trusting and believing and achieving. It took me a while to move from accepting and trusting to celebrating to now, asking, how do I honor my ambition?”
Nicole mentioned that there had been many times when she had been told that she was too ‘fill in the blank,’ which resonated with me because I was told I am too ambitious by a former leader. And as I reflect on what it means to be ambitious, to me, it’s having the strong desire to achieve or to do something. So, I really have a hard time wrapping my mind around that being a bad thing. Wouldn’t ambition be a positive thing for so many of us as we work or grow our businesses or families?
Lesle shared ambition as connecting your head to your heart and learning to lean in and listen to that inner voice, and I ask her to share examples of how she has honored her own ambition.
“Yes,” Lesle says. “And I empathize with Nicole. And you, Kristin. There are a lot of challenges. And I will tell you; I had support in this process. Honoring my ambition was me getting to the point of frustration around compensation, where I felt like, you know, it wasn’t equitable. I was not given the financial opportunities that some of my peers had. And that was my opportunity to speak up for myself and say, ‘Hey, here’s what I believe I’m worth now in terms of financial earnings, and also what I believe I’m capable of in the future.’ So, what I had to do as a first step, was to believe that myself. Or, as Nicole said, trust yourself. I will be honest and say that, at first, I didn’t know how to build trust in myself. I had to believe something was the truth, then go and start building some personal conviction, building a case, doing my research, and gathering some facts. I had to make it a little more logical, not just emotional, and then go and act on it. I had to have courageous conversations and practice the art of negotiation to get to a point where I felt like I was honoring what I needed to do for myself, which was to speak up around compensation. I wanted to be paid what I was worth at that time and create an avenue for myself to learn and negotiate on behalf of my future ambition. So, I think that’s one of the more vivid times I honored my ambition. I even spoke with friends about it in the industry. I leveraged a coach that I had hired to help me with the belief and with the art of conducting the conversations. And, I will tell you, it felt so good and powerful that I wasn’t just settling for what the circumstances or environment at that time were telling me. I was taking more control over what I wanted my future to look like at the moment and ongoing. And that act of honoring my ambition was very confidence building.”
As Lesle described that situation, I heard her say she had this feeling and recognized that she wasn’t being compensated in a way that aligned with others. And she was able to separate the emotion from the logic of the situation, consulting with friends and hiring a coach to work through the belief and help frame those courageous conversations. I’m curious and ask her how often she thinks courageous conversations are a part of honoring personal ambition.
“Often!” Lesle says. “I mean, it starts with us, right? Like I mentioned that little voice, sometimes it’s as quiet as a whisper talking to yourself. We probably have a million conversations with ourselves each day. And I think courage within and courage with our personal network, whether that be our family, spouse, friends, colleagues, mentors, people we seek advice from, is essential to the process of growth and the process of living life outside your comfort zone.”
I feel much the same way. It’s important to highlight what starts to come about as we explore honoring your ambition. As people really, truly want to honor their ambition, they should know that those courageous conversations will be a part of it. I appreciate how Lesle shared a lot of that starts with yourself and the whisper that you have in your heart. I ask Nicole to share her experience and examples of honoring her own ambition.
“So, I have two that I think are the biggest examples,” says Nicole. “And I want to go on record to say I have more and more examples now of honoring my ambition than I did early on. But I still sometimes struggle with this. And I certainly struggled with it early on in my career. So, the two biggest examples I have of honoring my ambition are when I left my position. It was a comfortable, secure income and a great position to have from the outside looking in. But I just knew that it wasn’t enough. I knew I wasn’t going to get compensated in the way I ultimately wanted to be compensated. I knew I wasn’t going to get the opportunities that I ultimately thought I wanted. It just became apparent after banging my head against the wall repeatedly that the environment that I was in was not going to deliver on what I ultimately wanted or felt I deserved. I think the process that comes up for me every once in a while is forgiving myself for how long that took – for how long I stayed in a place that ultimately wasn’t going to allow me to create the lifestyle, the work environment, and the goal achievement that I ultimately wanted. But at some point, I had enough, and I stepped down. And you know, not all of it was ill-intentioned or dealing with bad people or sexism or anything like that. Those things existed for sure, but it wasn’t all that alone. It just ultimately came to a point where I was asking, is what I want important enough to step away from what’s comfortable and what’s safe to get it? And that is probably the biggest example I have professionally where I chose to honor that ambition and believe that what I wanted in my heart of hearts, the desire that was inside of me, was worth risking and doing whatever it took.”
Nicole paused before sharing her next story. “The second example is more personal and more of a work in progress but has become a bigger topic in the last year, and that is honoring my ambition within my marriage. My husband Jay is uber-successful and highly compensated. He is a business owner that takes on a lot of risk, is exceptionally good at what he does, and I could not possibly be prouder. But I had to also reconcile that I am just as ambitious in our marriage, potentially a little bit more. I’m just as career-oriented, and I aspire to be just as highly compensated. Everything that makes him successful professionally lives inside of me, too. I had to understand that his career ambitions were always going to be more recognized, more accepted, more appreciated in society, in our day-to-day lives, than mine were. I think back to when I was pregnant, so many people asked me whether or not I was going to come back after maternity leave to work, or how many people, even when I said yes, told me ‘You’ll see, you won’t know until it happens.’ And how often my own desires and choices were questioned by outsiders. It would frustrate me to no end. But oddly, it frustrated Jay even more because he would see this happening. He’d be like, of the two of us, if there is somebody who’s going to be a stay-at-home parent, it’d be more likely to be him than it would be me, but that was never a question. It is never a question for him to travel for work, or to do a weekend or evening event for work, but it’s always a question for me. Internally, I have a lot of angst. And I’ve had a lot of guilt about that. I’m really just coming to the point where it’s like, no, I get to honor my ambition at the same level that we create the space for Jay to honor his. I want to be an example to our daughter of what it looks like to believe and operate as a family unit that my goals and the things that I want to accomplish are just as valuable, important, and worth investing in as Jays’. I know, there’s an element of luck. But I also know that I chose a very good man and that I’ve been very communicative about these things. And that I’m willing to have those conversations and keep building off of them to the point where things are equal, not meaning 50/50 and all aspects 100% of the time, because I don’t know that that exists. We cover each other a lot. But we often have conversations asking – how do we make this equitable in our relationship?”
I ask Nicole to share the difference between equal and equitable.
“I can share what works in our family,” says Nicole. “As we know, things aren’t going to be equal all the time. There were times in our relationship where I made more money than Jay did. And there are times where he’s made more money than I have. And then there are times where we’ve equally contributed to the household financially. So, when I think of equal, I think of that couple-year period where we’re both contributing the same amount. When I think of equitable, I think about the fact that we have supported each other to do what we need to do professionally and financially by covering each other. Equal pay would be if we had the same exact amount, the same number of pickups and school drop-offs, and things like that. Equitable is how do we talk about what’s important for our businesses and goals? How do we make sure that we’re covering for each other and that each person gets what they need? For example, I cover the mornings in our household because Jay likes to get up at 4:30 in the morning and likes to be in work mode by 7 am. That’s not my choice. Jay covers a lot more during his lunch hours and, being virtual, has a couple of days where he is done at three o’clock. So, I tend to take more of those midday afternoons because that’s what works better for us. So, it’s not, quote-unquote equal, but it’s equitable. Equitable in that we’re coming from a place where both of our careers and goals are important. Both of our commitments to each other are as important in our decision-making process and conversations as how we test things out.”
It sounds like Nicole has gotten to a place where she’s learned to believe in herself and her potential, and then trust in her partner and marriage to communicate her ambition in a way that brings that to a reality.
“Yes,” Nicole confirms. “And I’ll tell you, honestly, I’ve been the bigger problem in this because my M.O. is to decide for us. For example, during COVID over the summer, camps were not available, so I decided on my own with zero conversation. At that point, Jay’s business was paying more into our household than mine was, and I knew we were limited on time. So, I decided that I would take a little bit of a step back in my business. To make a long story short, I ended up getting resentful about it. I was frustrated because he had more time to work on his business than I did on mine. And so then, sometimes we women get resentful and start collecting evidence. That led to a little bit of a breakdown in our relationship, which created the need for us to have a conversation. And every time I’ve had these conversations with Jay, he’s been more than willing to figure out how to make this work. He’s taken steps back. I share that to say that more often than not, communication is the answer. And more often than not, when it comes to honoring my ambition, I’m usually the problem. I’m usually the roadblock, not him, not our marriage. So, that’s been a big learning opportunity for me. And I hope I’m getting better at having those conversations before I make the decisions on my own or before the resentment is built.”
I can absolutely relate to that. I definitely know nothing about collecting evidence and building cases in my mind or ruminating, I joke. But in all seriousness, learning to communicate goes back to asking in a way that doesn’t assume the negative. I know sometimes I can create a narrative in my mind that is not true. And if I simply have an adult conversation with my husband and ask for what I need and why it’s important, he’s more than willing to respond positively. But it’s about silencing all of those negative stories that I tend to create. I think sometimes they’re rooted in fear. Sometimes they come from going against the grain, going against what society says is normal for us. I honored my ambition when I finally leaned into the calling that had been on my heart for a really long time. Lesle mentioned that our ambition can be this tiny voice a lot of times, this whisper on our hearts. That was so true for me. I love coaching. I’ve loved coaching for a long, long time. And I got myself to a place professionally where I believed and created the narrative that the only way to get to where I wanted to go was to continue to climb the corporate ladder and push to that next role and push to move higher up in leadership. I dug my heels in, and man, I gritted it out as much as I could. And ultimately, I was given the gift of being able to make a choice. I went for a position and next-level leadership role, and I didn’t get the role. That, for me, was a pivotal time, both personally and professionally, because instead of staying the course and continuing to fight, I took a pause. I allowed for space and silence, which I think is another practice that can help us all honor our ambition. I asked myself, what is it that I want? And that voice, that whisper on my heart grew louder, and louder and louder. Finally, I said, let’s do it. I’m going to go for it. I stepped away from a career that I knew to achieve success and launch my own coaching practice. And it’s scary. It’s exciting. It’s nerve-wracking. But I feel like I am truly honoring my ambition.
I love how Nicole brought up that she is honoring her ambition more and more. So now, I feel like, with everything, there are new ways to honor ambition with every new project, or every new client, or every new podcast episode. The skills that we are talking about – the skills of consulting with others and having courageous conversations and forgiving ourselves and recognizing our own desires, communicating, giving space, all of these skills are ways that we can honor our ambition. And yet, there will be challenges along the way, and I ask Lesle to share what she has experienced.
“I think there are probably more challenges than I can name,” Lesle says. She shares a quote, one that uses the term ‘men’ generically, but says “Many men walk the earth in a life of quiet desperation,” and she relates that to our own experiences. “If we are going to operate on default mode, we probably are quietly desperate and suffering because we’re not honoring our ambition,” Lesle explains. “There are so many things in this world up against us that it’s probably easier not to. Nicole mentioned that, in her conversations with Jay, which I so connect with, it often starts with ourselves and our self-defeating thinking. Roughly 80 percent of our thoughts each day are negative. So, we have to be proactive and conscious about being optimistic, being bigger, trusting ourselves, and believing in ourselves to achieve big things that we want and dream about. So, challenges I find, especially in women, but probably most people, are the way that we limit ourselves through self-defeating thinking. And part of the problem with ambition, particularly for women, is the societal conflict that asks, can I be a great wife and partner? Can I be a great mom? And can I be highly ambitious at the same time? I’ve found myself doing this. Not just in my mind but in the real world thinking, so this kind of feeds into my self-defeating thinking.”
Lesle shares how she feels in her executive meetings as the only woman, wondering if the other male participants know what she faces as a mom, balancing family, school, summer camps, and more. Then how at a Girl Scout or soccer camp meeting, surrounded by moms, she wonders if they face the same challenges of also running a multimillion-dollar business. “I find myself asking in both situations, does anybody get me?” Lesle explains. “It’s so easy to say, maybe I should just be in that role. Or maybe I should just be in this role – can I really have what I want and be ambitious in these different aspects of life? I’m here because I think we can, but the challenges are abundant. Specifically in the messages that we tell ourselves and the traps or the lies that we fall into, based on what the world tells us we should be. It can feel in direct contradiction to what our dreams may be. And also, what you’re surrounded by in your environment. I do not want to sound like a complainer because I’ve had so many people in my life, which I’m incredibly grateful for. And they’ve helped me honor my ambition. But at the same time, it’s really easy to compare myself to people in my life, whether that be personally or professionally, and wonder if what I think about when it comes to ambition is normal.”
When Lesle shared that she often wonders if anyone ‘gets’ her, I reflect on how it can be extremely lonely to be a woman and mama with a big vision and big ambition. I’m picturing Lesle in the boardroom with other executives then going to Girl Scouts or soccer games. I ask Lesle if she feels lonely on her journey to honoring her ambition.
“Oh, definitely,” Lesle says. “As an executive or a business owner, you’re not always getting real feedback. I mean, people tell you things, but they may not always tell you exactly how they feel. And it does leave me wondering, around a mom group, for example, like, did I say the right thing? It’s wild how much I can question myself when I feel like I’m the only one.”
I ask Nicole the same question, whether or not she feels lonely on her journey.
“Absolutely,” Nicole responds. “And I have also created or been given the opportunity to know what it is to connect with other ambitious women. And it feels like coming home. There is nothing like it, even though, like I said, Jay is super ambitious. And I love that. I can connect with him on that in our relationship. But there is nothing like connecting with another ambitious career woman, especially, at my stage, married with children. I wish I wouldn’t have waited too long. That was a big difference-maker.”
I ask Nicole to continue by sharing some of the challenges she has faced.
“I am going to oversimplify this a little bit,” Nicole begins. “I think all of my challenges could be put in the same category. And it’s this; there is basically my internal knowing and my internal voice. Then there’s a ton of noise. And all of the challenges are when I listen to the noise and not my inner knowing. So, the noise of gender expectations, the noise of naysayers, the noise of haters, the noise of people who said I couldn’t, the noise of people not giving me opportunities, the noise of the wage gap, the noise of people’s expectations and what I should or what I shouldn’t. It’s all noise. It’s not to say that people can’t have great feedback or insight. But I can tell when it connects with my inner knowing. And it comes through my inner voice. When I listen to the noise, which tends to be a lot louder than sometimes the quiet whisper of my inner knowing, that’s where all the challenges stem from.”
I follow up by asking how Nicole silences that noise.
“For me, it’s a process,” Nicole explains. “I first ask myself; does this resonate with me? Does it make sense? And also, does this person matter? Or are they in a position to give me feedback? Then ultimately, I ask myself, what do I want to do with this? I need to allow myself the opportunity to sit with the noise so that I can turn down the volume dial and turn up the volume dial on what I think and feel. I ask if it aligns with me or not, if it gives me energy. It’s that opportunity to check in with myself. I said earlier that I have to give myself grace and forgive myself for how long I stayed in a situation that ultimately wasn’t working for me. And it was because I didn’t check in with myself.”
That is something that I am learning to do more and more and more as a business owner. Comparison intensifies that external noise and being able to honor your ambition is being able to listen to intuition – that calling on your own heart. I love those questions – does this resonate with me? And what do I want to do about it? Being able to listen to your own answers, regardless of what it means when you start to compare yourself to others, is crucial because the choices you make might not be the same as the other people you admire. Honoring your ambition is leaning in and listening to your own voice.
As I reflect on our conversation, we’ve identified fear, self-doubt, comparison, and loneliness as barriers women face when they begin to honor their ambition. I ask Nicole if she has others she can speak to.
“Yes,” Nicole says. “I think about four major ones. First and foremost, one of our biggest barriers is our internal confidence. The root of the word confidence is trust. So, when I talk about confidence, I want to be very clear that what I’m talking about is the ‘trusting yourself’ aspect of confidence. Research shows that women are less confident than their male counterparts. We weren’t born with less confidence; this isn’t a ‘nature’ thing. Through society and expectations and experiences, we have disconnected from our confidence, are a little less inclined to take risks, or trust ourselves in moments. And so obviously, that is going to play a part in chasing your ambition. I know I can relate to this, the feeling that I want to do something, but I’m not sure I can. You sit in limbo for so long. That’s what I’m talking about here. The second one, which might not apply to everybody, depends on what you want to do related to your ambition. It is having the ambition, but not the acumen. So, it’s one thing to want to do something; let’s take starting a business or creating a product, but not knowing everything that goes into it. I can think of a handful of friends who know what they want to do. But they’ve never run a business before, or they don’t know how to put together a scope of work, pitch to a client, manage the finances, or delegate and leverage other people. There’s so much that goes into anything that might require ambition. So, the second big barrier is when we have the ambition, but we might be missing the acumen. The third thing that is a big barrier is the tendency to look at the people we surround ourselves with and gauge ourselves based on them. I have a best friend group that I could tell them anything, and I know it’s going to be taken to their grave. I know they’d run in front of a bus for me. These are my people, but they’re not my ambition. When I’m thinking about honoring my ambition, that’s not the friend group that comes to mind – I’m thinking of different women. It’s important to understand that it’s completely normal to have both friends and ambition circles, and not judge ourselves or our friends as a result or worry about what they might think. Then finally, one of the big barriers is this feeling that we need to piecemeal it all together. Where do I get the resources, training, support, and knowledge that I need to do it? For the most part, there isn’t a one-stop-shop to do that. When I started my business, I had 400 conversations with 400 different people to get the information I needed to take that next step or to put one foot in front of the other. I hired a business coach, but I also had a different coach. I also had my study group. I’m in a handful of business groups, and it’s just like, okay, it’s not just me. Everybody’s trying to piecemeal this together. And that can make it challenging.”
That was a powerful lesson for me as a business owner because sometimes I think other business owners have all the answers, and they have it all figured out. What I’m learning is no one has all the answers and has it figured out. The business owners who are thriving and succeeding have a community they can lean on for support and get those questions answered, which is really helpful and powerful. I ask Lesle to share her recommendations for people to lean in and honor their ambition.
“I have so many recommendations,” Lesle begins. “And I’ve been hearing them throughout this conversation. The first thing I would say is, I highly recommend taking baby steps, maybe journaling, to identify the ambition. You can ask, what would it look like if I did this? What would it look like if I had that courageous conversation and amplified that voice? I think taking risks, really little risks that push your desires outside of your comfort zone. They don’t have to be crazy leaps, but taking one step in that certain direction. I would make sure that you make yourself a priority. Ask, how am I learning? What am I reading? Who am I surrounding myself with? We’ve all talked about hiring coaches, and that’s important because we are our biggest investment. Finding important and strategic ways to invest in yourself that’s in alignment with your goals, your ambition is really important. Eliminate the negativity – ditch the guilt and be proactive with overriding those negative voices and noise. I really like to do affirmations, especially before I go into a scenario. Maybe it’s a meeting or a conversation. Maybe it’s just the sense that these negative thoughts are creeping in the cracks, overriding the person I want to be and become. And very importantly, surround yourself with ambitious people. Find those people that are as like-minded to you as possible, and make sure you are spending time with them and supporting each other in your goals. I think community is a really important part of life. There are others like you; there are a lot of ambitious women that will support your goals and dreams.”
It is such a gift to find like-minded people that desire to support you and have such an abundant mentality. I am so grateful. As I mentioned initially, I have respected and admired both Nicole and Lesle for such a long time. It is blowing my mind that the three of us came together on a podcast with so many similar stories and experiences. And we’re able to come together to serve a greater community.
Lesle mentioned taking a risk to pursue her desires outside of her comfort zone, and I appreciate how she pointed out that these risks don’t have to be huge and monumental. That can be one of the barriers to honoring your ambition – that in our minds, we build things out to be so big and overwhelming. One of the riskiest things I did when I started my business was having a real conversation with my husband about what I really wanted to do. That conversation then gave me the confidence and the courage to start talking to select people in my network and floating the idea by them about starting my own coaching practice. Those conversations were so risky and so scary. And as I got positive feedback that gave me the courage to have more, eventually leave the company, and start the business. Honoring your ambition can really take place in these small steps. And the small risk can lead to the bigger risk where you really start to make yourself a priority. I ask Nicole to share her ideas for others to lean in and honor their ambition.
“Have the courageous conversations first and foremost with yourself,” Nicole shares. “Create and allow for that space and time to turn down the volume of the noise and turn up the volume of your inner voice, ambition, and what you want. Even if it’s ten minutes in the bathroom, try to listen to your own internal voice – knowing that the volume of the noise is going to creep right back in really, really quickly. The second thing is getting into action. Always get into action. Action builds confidence more than anything else. How do you climb Mount Everest? One step at a time. We tend to look at the big mountain instead of understanding that the way you accomplish anything big is one foot in front of the other. So, get into action, find a tribe. Find people that you can be completely ambitious in front of and not worry. People that will give you feedback and who are trying to accomplish big things too. That allows you to lean on each other, leverage each other. Then, on top of that, leverage each other’s experience and expertise. So, whether it’s hiring a coach, doing a mastermind, or whatever the case may be, learn from people who have done what you want to do or understand the business acumen that you need. Finally, and this is a really, really important one I can’t stress enough, invest in yourself. Invest time, invest money, in whatever that is for you. If you don’t invest in yourself, who will? Understand that there is a significant difference between an expense and an investment. When you look at things, invest in yourself first for the highest rate of return. What I mean by that is if you’re looking at spending money to get your logo created versus hiring a coach, hire the coach every time. The logo isn’t going to sell anything by itself. It’s an investment in something. And that will come at some point in time, but when given a choice, always invest in yourself because it will always be the greatest return on investment.”
I love that we have uncovered so many of the barriers that exist as people strive to honor their ambition. Lesle and Nicole offered so many ideas on how people can lean in and honor their ambition. Everything from breaking it down to small steps, eliminating negativity, having those courageous conversations with yourself, surrounding yourself with the right tribe and community and investing in yourself. If you are reading this today and thinking, “I want to honor my ambition and find a community to support me,” you can join the mastermind community that Nicole, Lesle, and myself created by clicking here.
With that goal achievers, keep celebrating your weekly wins, learning from your lessons and identifying your priorities. So, you can consistently pursue progress in the direction of your goals.