One of the most important moments in my career came in a brief hallway conversation. A woman I admire and consider a mentor pushed me to clarify what I wanted to do in the world. I took some time to think, and then came back to her and said I wanted to be the president of the Bush Foundation.

The importance of this moment is not measured by the fact that six years later I was named president of the Bush Foundation. The moment is important because it absolutely changed the way I make decisions about my career: It taught me to name my ambition, share my ambition, and own my ambition.

When you name your ambition, you set your direction. Before that hallway conversation, I simply did things that I liked and tried to do a good job. Imagining a dream job allowed me to imagine a path toward that job; it gave me a new basis for making career decisions.

But it is not enough to name your ambition. You have to share your ambition. You need people who will affirm and encourage you. You need people who can provide the support and counsel necessary to achieve your goal. The people you need won't know that you need them if you don't share your ambition.

Once you name your ambition and share your ambition, you can own your ambition. Because when you have direction and support, you will have what you need to make bigger and more confident career moves that will help you grow.

Now, I know this sounds overly simple. But the truth is that if it weren't for that hallway conversation, if I hadn't been challenged to clarify what I want to do in the world, I would not be where I am today. I find that most women I talk to do not have a specific ambition.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that the word ambition is not always kindly associated with women. Not long ago I was asked to speak on the topic of ambition. When I saw my name on the event poster next to the word ambition, it made my stomach twist. I didn't want to be labeled ambitious.


The experience made me do some deep reflection. I have always wanted to make a big impact. That's ambition, right? So why did I have a problem with that word?

By the time of the actual event I was able to say from the podium that I was proudly ambitious. And since then I have been unabashedly pro-ambition.

So my message on ambition is this: Name it. Share it. Own it.

Jennifer Ford Reedy became the president of the Bush Foundation in 2012. She lives in Falcon Heights.

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