Why Savannah Guthrie Hates the Word Ambition

By Kathleen Harris

Is ambition a bad word? Why are men more ready and able to admit they are ambitious than women? Is that even true?

Ambition and its idiosyncrasies were at the forefront of an incredible discussion of female trailblazers at the Real Simple/TIME Women & Success event Thursday night in New York City. Real Simple editor Kristin van Ogtrop kicked off the panel by asking TODAY show anchor Savannah Guthrie, "Are you ambitious?"

"I would say no," Guthrie said. "I hate the word. I think it's impolite."

"The one thing I'm ambitious about is not failing," she continued. "That fear of failure has driven me. It has kept me on my toes."

Pulitzer-Prize winning author and professor Margo Jefferson wasn't as bullish on the word, but agreed that the emotion surrounding being perceived as ambitious isn't always a positive one.  

"I have to admit, I am ambitious. But the aura, the connotation — greed, ruthlessness … That's the masculine mythology that surrounds it." Is a desire to excel a more politically correct way to speak of ambition? Jefferson's parents'  thought so, and gave her this advice when she was a young girl, "Don't compete with others, only compete with yourself."

There's no doubt that the word ambitious garners immediate reactions from people. In a recent Real Simple and TIME poll, they found that, "Younger women are significantly more ambitious than older ones — 48 percent of women in their 20s said they were "very" or "extremely" ambitious, compared to only 26 percent of women over 60." 

But don't put Senator Claire McCaskill in that bucket. "I'll admit it, I'm ambitious!," the Senator proudly said when she stepped on stage. And the crowd went wild.

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Photo Credit: Noam Galai/ Getty Images