Ambition – is this dirty word holding you back?

There is a word that I’ve noticed has become a dirty word for expat partners. It has developed such negative connotations that we just don’t use it anymore. But I think it is time that we started to embrace it again, to develop our own definition of what it means to us and use it to help us grow.

I’m talking about ambition. In this blog, I’m going to look at why it is seen as such a bad thing, and how we can start to redefine it.

This blog article is a summary of the related podcast episode.

Click here to listen to the tips mentioned in this article.

What is wrong with ambition?

Do you set aside time at the end of the year to reflect on what has happened during the last twelve months? I always try to take a little time to do this, to think about the things that worked and those that didn’t, the things in my business that have brought me joy and the things I want to do more or less of in the future. It is my time to ask myself what I want my future to look like and what I want my goals for next year to be.

This year, one word kept coming to me. I tried to push it away and I tried to ignore it. The word was ‘ambition’.

I realized that I kept pushing it away because it is seen as such a negative thing, particularly among women. It is a word that we don’t use too much. As I thought about ambition, I also realized that it is a word that I have avoided using in my podcast, and also in my own journey as a portable business owner. And yet, when I thought about the woman I want to be in the future, this word kept coming back to me.

But why is this word such a problem? I think there is something about our attitude to the concept of ambition that is stopping us from growing and could be creating major roadblocks on our personal and entrepreneurial journeys.

As I began to dig into why the idea of ambition and being ambitious is seen as being somehow shameful or unacceptable, I Googled ‘ambition’ and ‘ambitious’. Did you know the definitions are quite different? Ambition actually comes up as being a positive thing – it is about a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring hard work or determination. And when you look at words associated with ambition, they include: aspiration, intention, goal, aim, purpose, intent, calling, wish, design, dream and hope. These are amazing and I can identify with these words. However, although lots of positive associations also come up for ‘ambitious’, there were many more negative words linked to it, for example, forceful and pushy. These are another indication that there’s something wrong with how we think about this word.

I’m not sure how you feel about the idea of being ambitious, but I think its something we need to address. This is my personal view and I think it is important to look at our relationship with your ambitions and your dreams, especially if you are a woman. As women, we are often expected to be there to support other people, rather than focusing on our own dreams. We might have ambitions but we sometimes shy away from being ambitious.

I want to invite you to think again about what it means to be ambitious by embracing your dreams and ambitions without feeling bad about it. 

This has never been more important that at the end of this year. 2020 has brought huge challenges for all of us, with the pandemic bringing lockdown, partners working from home, homeschooling for children and so many other new situations. These huge challenges have led to many of us backing off on the dreams we have. It has led to us also focusing on self-care to get through this time. And we’ve been trained to think that being ambitious means that we can’t do both. Being ambitious is not associated with supporting your family, or looking after yourself. Being ambitious is seen as being about sacrifice, putting your family, relationships and even your own wellbeing second to achieving your goals.

I don’t think it has to be that way. I think it is time to start embracing the idea of being ambitious for our lives and our businesses without losing yourself in work or compromising your personal life.

A new definition of being ambitious

When I was researching definitions of ambition and being ambitious, I found an article  by author and speaker Sarah Boyd, that include a new definition of ambition:

“Ambition is based on the belief that there are more positive things in the future that we haven’t discovered yet.” Sarah Cope

You can read Sarah’s article on good and bad ambition here.

I love this definition! This is exactly how I invite you to look at ambition. We need to develop a mindset where we believe that our dreams and goals for the future are possible. We need to believe that we can achieve them! This is not being ambitious in a selfish or self-serving way, this is being ambitious in a way that is about sharing who we are and what we can do with the world. This is about harnessing our self-belief in a way that allows us to put ourselves out there and make an impact. This is why I believe in the importance of ambition.

There may be another reason that ambition is still a dirty word for us. Having big ambitions means a lot of hard work. It means dreaming and trying on a big scale, and with that comes the risk of failure. That fear can be another reason why we avoid allowing ourselves to be ambitious and to dream big. We avoid setting actual financial goals or targets because we might not reach them, and in doing so, we rob ourselves of the chance to even try to achieve them. We need to accept that ambition and failure sometimes go together, and that failure is part of learning and growing. It is often said that as entrepreneurs you should fail fast and fail often because the more you avoid failure, the longer it will take you to where you want to be. And yes, failure is hard but sometimes it is also an essential part of our journey to success. So don’t let the fear of failure or even of just getting out of your comfort zone stop you from being ambitious for your life and business.

And also don’t let your fear of success hold you back. I’ve talked to a lot of expat partners who want a successful portable business that generates revenue for their family, but as soon as we start talking about money and big financial goals, it starts getting scary and uncomfortable. You need to come to terms with the financial realities of success, and to stop masking your fear of that success as fear of failure. 

It is OK to want more. You are worth it and you deserve to make money.

Being successful and generating more revenue brings more responsibilities which can be scary,  but ultimately many of us have a lot of self-limiting beliefs about money, as well as ambition. If you don’t address these issues, it is going to be hard for you to live up to your dreams or make an impact. 

What does ambition look like for you?

I want you to look at ambition as setting high aspirations for yourself. Ambition should be about believing in yourself, respecting yourself and believing in your dreams. It should be about knowing that you are good enough. Having ambition is about acknowledging that your dreams have value and worth and putting them on the same level as other people’s dreams and needs. 

Being ambitious doesn’t mean going it alone. It means having the courage to ask for help being ambitious! Being ambitious means working smarter, not harder so that you don’t have to compromise on your self-care and nurturing your relationships.

Being ambitious is also not a solo effort. You need to build your support system. You don’t have to carry everything on your shoulders. A huge shout out to all the parents I work with who have inspired me so much this year. It is so important for your kids to see you owning your ambitions in this way. Wouldn’t you want your kids to know that its OK to dream big and to believe in those dreams enough to pursue them? I have worked with so many parents who want to succeed so that they can set an example for their children to follow.

Emily Rogers from Expat Parenting Abroad is a great example of someone who is combining parenthood with realizing her ambitions. Her daughters have been paying attention and have told her what it means to them to see their mom pursuing her dreams. You can listen to Emily’s story here:

How starting my business made me a better mom 

And if like me, you don’t have kids, you may be surprised how being ambitious in this positive way can have an impact on others. I have been so moved by the friends who have reached out to me to tell me that watching me pursue my dreams has inspired them. This has been so valuable to me because as I have shared before, one of the self-limiting beliefs that held me back was that my friends and family would think badly of me.

So let’s do it, Nomad Nation. Let’s be unafraid to be ambitious in this new positive way. I invite you to embrace ambition and to love yourself enough to give yourself permission to dream big! Let’s say goodbye to feeling ashamed or fearful of going after what will make us happy and begin to unleash our full potential as we start to plan for a new year!

What does being ambitious mean to you? Let me know by email at or message me on Instagram @tandemnomads