Somewhere in my past, ambition became a dirty word. I kept it inside of me like a stain I tried to hide. It is the secret I pretend I do not harbor, despite its persistence and resilience within me. This week, however, I let it show.
My first trip to the South Carolina State House was on Equal Pay Day. A local advocacy group, the Women’s Resource and Empowerment Network (WREN) held their first annual summit and I attended. The conference centered around a study on women in the workforce that WREN had sponsored at the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business.
The three categories of findings were the gender pay gap, labor force participation, and the distribution of employment. The study found that a 22% pay gap persists in S.C. despite our women being, on average, more highly educated than our men. How can our ambition be so widely disregarded and our abilities be so undervalued?
Ambition manifests in action and my actions have been rather modest.
The snort of disapproval my doctorate has received, the dismissal of my fiction work as a hobby, the intentional misunderstanding of what it is my company does; I let these offenses slide. Then there are the specific phrases that hang on me like graffiti on a storefront. Phrases that remind me how difficult it is to be a writer, how inevitable it is that I’ll fail, how many businesses never make any money, and how naïve it is to still have dreams.
Phrases that are not my own insecurities, but the failures and doubts of others being projected upon me.
I stood in the State House and asked myself, “What right have I to be here? Am I doing good work? Can I do more? When will I?”