How Women Are Redefining Ambition to Build Happier, More Successful Careers


Randi Braun didn’t realize she was exhausted until it almost killed her.

One afternoon while driving home to Washington, D.C., Braun fell asleep at the wheel and crossed six lanes of traffic at one of the city’s busiest intersections, narrowly missing a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Miraculously, no one was hurt.

It was June 2020, the start of the first Covid-19 pandemic summer – Braun, who is also a mother of two, juggling homeschooling and running her leadership coaching business, that she quit her sales job just before the pandemic hit.

“Our minds have such a hard time convincing us to constantly do more, but eventually our bodies catch up to us,” says Braun, who declined to share her age. “Sometimes we’re not even aware of the constant level of exhaustion we’re operating on before it becomes a life-or-death issue.”

Women continue to face alarming levels of burnout – the extreme circumstances of working and surviving during a pandemic, some workplace experts warn, have cost women their ambition.

While it’s true that millions of women have quit their jobs or changed careers since the pandemic began, and that female executives are leaving companies at the highest rates ever, many women are still excited about their careers. and determined to succeed.

Overall, nearly half (48%) of women describe themselves as “very ambitious” when it comes to their careers, and ambition among women of color is even higher, according to a Momentive/CNBC survey of women. of more than 5,000 women carried out last month.

Women don’t lose their ambition – they reject a narrow definition of ambition as the pursuit of money and power and write a new one.

Rethinking “the limits of typical work in a company”

Braun’s near-collision caused her to re-evaluate her work-life balance, cutting back on the hours she spent growing her business to devote more time to self-care in her routine.

Slowing down, Braun says, has helped her dream bigger and achieve some of her career goals sooner. She released her first book, “Something Major: The New Playbook for Women at Work,” earlier this month.

Randi Braun and her husband Benjy on a recent trip to Sedona, Arizona.

Photo: Randi Braun

“Women are the most ambitious they’ve ever been,” she adds. “They’re just fed up with the fact that they can’t [always] fully realize this ambition within the confines of a typical corporate job, as it is limited by the prejudices and barriers that still exist in most workplaces. »

“I quit my job to travel the world for a year”

Nabila Ismail had long dreamed of becoming a pharmacist and improving people’s lives with the right medicines.

But after spending the first 10 months of the pandemic working an 85-hour week in a Los Angeles drugstore, Ismail realized his dream career wasn’t viable.

“It was brutal, I was exhausted and I wondered whether or not I wanted to work in the health field,” says Ismail, now 28.

She quit and got a different job, this time remotely, as a marketing manager for a telemedicine company – but she wasn’t in love with her new role either. “Something was missing,” she recalls.

Then, while cleaning her room, she found an old diary, with a clear goal for the future Nabila: “When I’m 28, I’ll quit my job and travel for a year.”

Nabila Ismail during a recent trip to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Photo: Nabila Ismail

Ismail could not remember when or why she had written this sentence, but she followed the advice of her diary: in May 2022, she gave her two weeks’ notice, transferred her belongings to her home. parents’ house and booked a one-way trip to Bali, a few weeks before his 28th birthday.

She’s been traveling ever since, leading group trips for other women curious about solo travel and blogging about her experience on her website, Dose of Travel. She’s been to 16 countries and counting.

In addition to group travel, which Ismail is paid to lead, she has funded her travels by working remotely as a freelance marketing strategy consultant and copywriter for various companies. She supplements her income with brand partnerships and concerts.

Ismail still considers herself a “really ambitious” person – but she’s realized that, for her, success is less about job titles or money, and more about taking risks in her career and focusing on things that make her happy, like traveling.

“Working on the frontlines of the pandemic taught me how fleeting time is,” she says. “I realized that the career markers I was striving for weren’t worth sacrificing my sanity.”

“I left the C suite to start my own business and live on a farm”

At the height of her corporate career, Denise Conroy was making million-dollar business decisions and flying to executive meetings in private planes. In her “past life,” as Conroy now calls her, she was a senior executive at companies like Discovery Inc. and Iconic Group.

In March 2020, just after the first Covid-19 lockdowns were announced, Conroy and her husband Ned moved from Atlanta to a seven-acre farm in Alton, New Hampshire as they sought a quieter space. and open.

During the pandemic, his ambitions completely changed. Conroy has always viewed her career as a gradual climb up the corporate ladder to the C-suite. In 2021, she had finally achieved that dream by becoming interim CEO of a small performance coaching firm.

Conroy, 51, used to be one of the few women in a boardroom, but when she became CEO she was surprised how often she was the only woman, and the most young, to many business meetings she attended. It didn’t help that all meetings were on Zoom, which exacerbated his sense of isolation.

“For me, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she says, “it’s hard to make your voice heard in these situations.”

“Once I turned 50, my whole mentality changed. I thought, ‘I won’t suffer anymore, just for the sake of my career.'”

Denise Conroy on her farm in Alton, New Hampshire.

Photo: Denise Conroy

In November 2021, Conroy stepped down as CEO to start her own leadership consultancy, Themy, which she had been quietly building since 2019. My calling,” she says.

Going from working at a company with a steady paycheck to running his own business was “absolutely terrifying” for Conroy, who had always been the breadwinner of his family (she and Ned have two dogs).

Conroy has raised the costs of growing her business herself, selling relics of her C-suite past, including a Porsche and a “closet full of Christian Louboutin heels”, to help cover her and Ned’s bills. .

For much of her life, Conroy thought her ambition was the determination to achieve “the best status and as much money as possible” because she equated “money and success with financial security”.

“I always wanted to be the most powerful person in the room,” she adds.

Now, Conroy’s ambition is driven more by how she can maximize the positive impact she can have on the lives of others and find hobbies outside of work that bring her joy. She and Ned plan to buy goats and chickens for their farm soon.

Ambition is a frequent topic in discussions with her friends and the leaders she coaches – and while its definition changes depending on who Conroy talks to, they all had a collective epiphany: “We have the autonomy to decide what ambition means to us. It’s not up to anyone else.”

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