Yes! You Can Work to Be Ambitious and Happy at The Same Time

Ambition is a bit restless. We can feel blessed with the life we have, yet still crave more…security, impact or flexibility. The quest to improve is part of our culture. And for some of us, our very souls. Managing this feeling, however, is tricky. It’s hard to be ambitious and satisfied at the same time. Making it all happen, with the beyond busy Mom-schedule, also requires thoughtful strategy.

Some of us are wired or groomed for ambition, whereas others, adopt it by necessity. Moms are increasingly responsible for co, primary or sole breadwinning at home. In parallel, women are embracing entrepreneurship, in record numbers, as a path to greater autonomy and financial freedom. Last month, I attended Pepperlane’s conference, a day of celebrating and supporting Mom business owners. One of the (many) highlights was Nataly Kogan’s keynote. She shared her powerful story of rising professionally, nearly crashing from stress and ultimately, learning to become happier and more present.

 Beware of “I’ll be Happy When…”

Nataly admitted to the crowded room, “When I spoke at TedX Boston, (what appeared to be) one of the happiest days on the outside, was one of the darkest days of my life.” Prior to hearing this, we were transfixed by her story of emigrating to the US as a refugee with her family. Within a decade of learning to speak English, she rose to academic and career success, despite enduring hardship that would break many. She explained what appeared to be an incredible life wasn’t what it seemed, “…I was kind of sucking as a wife, Mom and as a CEO.”

Ambition, like happiness, is fluid. Achieving a goal is acknowledged, perhaps savored, then quickly replaced by the next one. Getting comfortable with this is…rather uncomfortable. Those of us that feel the constant pull towards ‘what’s next’, may try to ignore it, especially when our children are young. However, harnessing it for good, without being paralyzed by it, is a difficult yet worthwhile journey unique to each Mom.

Is Gratitude The Answer?

Nataly said, “Kindness and gratitude (as a solution) felt like BS…(but) when you get desperate you have to find something new.” We all laughed. She discovered through research the benefits of practicing gratitude and embraced it’s potential after observing she had more resilience. “Most of our brains are more sensitive to negative stimuli than positive.” She explained, “We naturally scan for things that can go wrong. (However,) the most powerful way to (counteract this) is through gratitude.”

She even launched a company that developed an app for people to share grateful moments. “If you pause to appreciate that (grateful) moment you give yourself a boost. (It)…makes us more joyful and more present.” Nataly said.

However, like any complex problem, the solution isn’t simple. Happiness is subjective and sustaining it requires a personalized approach. Nataly explained why gratitude wasn’t enough. “I thought to feel a negative emotion, I was failing at the American dream. I was using gratitude as another substitute for achievement. (I)…couldn’t manage feelings of sadness, fear, self-doubt or anxiety.” Children of immigrants often internalize and mirror our parents’ story of relentless hustle. I could relate.

Facing Down The Bad Days

Nataly explained her daughter inspired her to find a different way to live. “I had to learn to feel the difficult feelings…the more I did it, the easier it was. (By) acknowledging those feelings, I got through them.” This aligns with criticism among healthcare practitioners of ‘the positivity movement’ as a replacement for experiencing real feelings, even the sad and mad ones.

Nataly said, “When you give yourself permission to feel a difficult feeling, you get through it faster. I learned this and redefined how I think of happiness. We don’t talk enough about learning to embrace the difficult moments.”

Self-Compassion = Self-Care

Once Nataly reconciled her complicated feelings, she introduced creativity and whimsy into what had previously been a high pressured and linear path to professional success.“…Learning how to treat myself with kindness was the most difficult thing I had to learn. We would never imagine being as harsh to anyone we loved as we are to ourselves.” Sigh. So true! “People worry they’ll never be motivated to improve but research shows it’s the opposite.”

Nataly Kogan’s 3 steps to self-compassion

  1. Become aware of when you are mean to yourself.
  2. Pause and feel good that you are aware
  3. Reframe what you said as if you were speaking to someone you love

She said, “You cannot give what you don’t have. You can do it for a little while, but when your tank is empty, it’s very hard to help others.” Bravo Nataly!

Bring Joy to Self-Care Routines

“When you take time to do what fuels you, it helps you be more creative and productive.”

She shared how she started painting, something that previously felt distracting and self-indulgent she said. “There aren’t words to tell you how much painting has healed my life.” Nataly has embraced that some days are difficult, “I have days when I struggle, but my main way to stay on the path is my daughter.” She showed a beautiful video of her daughter, clearly full of love and pride for her Mom, at the end of her presentation. When she pointed to the image of her daughter she said, “This is what keeps me going when that mean voice shows up. The power of your self-compassion practice is that you spread it to the people in your life. Doing this for yourself, will help your family, customers, co-workers, employees and friends.”

Many thanks to the amazing Nataly Kogan for a wonderful presentation. She documents her full journey in her new book, Happier Now.

Nataly Kogan is an entrepreneur, speaker, author and the founder and CEO of Happier, a global learning platform that has helped more than one million people live happier lives. Her work has been featured in hundreds of media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, TEDx, SXSW, The Harvard Women’s Leadership Conference and The Dr. Oz Show.

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