No apology necessary

Are you ambitious?

Shellye Archambeau is. So much so that her new book is called Unapologetically Ambitious.

I became aware of her in 2016 at a C200 event at the University of Florida. C200 is an invitation-only women’s leadership group with the most successful women in business as members. Their mission is to “inspire, educate, celebrate and advance current and future women entrepreneurs and corporate leaders.” The event was focused on female engineering students and I was working with the college at the time so I got to attend.

Archambeau knew she wanted to be a CEO at age 16. Sixteen! And then she set about making it happen. She did her research and decided to focus on a growing industry – technology – and got started. First she chose the right college for her (Wharton, because with an undergraduate degree from the famed business school, she figured she could then skip the MBA and save a bunch of money.) Then she studied, interned and got the education she knew she needed to fulfill her goal.

Archambeau is a planner and a strategizer. Even when she was hit with something unexpected, namely meeting the man who would become her husband at the age of 19 (he was 38), she relied on her ability to stay focused on her life goals. At first, she resisted, telling him ‘you’re too old for me,’ but she couldn’t ignore how she felt. So, she made lists detailing what she wanted in a mate, and was open and honest with him about it. They were married until he sadly passed away from cancer just before her book was published.

Over and over in her memoir and guide, Archambeau surprised me with how single-minded she is, how she didn’t let anything or anyone stand in the way of her goals. Her process is always the same:

  • Do the research: Look for patterns and look at people who have already done what you want to do and figure out how they got there. For example, when she researched other CEOs, she found that the majority of them started in sales. So, she did the same.
  • She also realized as she looked around, that there weren’t a lot of CEOs who looked like her – a black female. She knew she’d have to differentiate herself. And she did, with drive, determination and brains.
  • Plan and strategize. Always. Every step of the way.

Growing up Black wasn’t always easy for her, but she said her parents set her and her siblings on the right track for a “hostile world.” She persisted and achieved the life she wanted but experienced hatred and violence because of the color of her skin.

Her book is divided into sections that are clear and easy to understand. The keys are taking action and making smart choices. One chapter is called Swerve, and Archambeau is clear that her plans didn’t always go as, well, planned, but she persevered and swerved while holding tight to her goals. You hear a lot about pivoting these days, but I like the way swerve sounds better. A pivot is a hard turn but a swerve is a cool dance out of the way.

Archambeau seems to have a Stoic attitude, which I appreciate. With any situation she says, one should:

  • Accept the circumstances,
  • Fake it ’til you make it,
  • Control what you can, and
  • Trust that things will get better.

It’s all in the way you look at things. She says no to work-life balance and yes to work-life integration. No to sacrifices and yes to choices.

Her view on mentoring is unique. She doesn’t advocate for asking someone to be your mentor. Instead, she says just adopt them by asking questions! Grab your chances when you can: let’s say you’re on the elevator with an exec in your company. Use that brief time to ask one question, and then follow through. Next time you see each other tell the person how you applied their advice and then ask another question. Use every opportunity you have with people you admire, or people in roles you aspire to, to pick their brains one question at a time.

I love coincidences and synchronicities, meaningful and casual alike. I heard Archambeau at UF five years ago. And at the end of her book, she talks about her siblings and what they’re up to. Guess what, her sister, Lindy, is a business professor at UF! I know it really doesn’t mean anything but I still think it’s cool 🙂

Unapologetically Ambitious is a fantastic read. An engaging memoir of a strong Black American woman who set out to fulfill her heart’s desires and made it all happen. And it’s also a guide to doing the same. Read and get inspired.

P.S. If you’re interested, here’s the YouTube link to her 2016 talk – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BFFyBWFXYc

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