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Leslie C. Bell, Ph.D., LCSW
Leslie C. Bell Ph.D., LCSW

How to Balance Career Ambition and Relationships

How to build relationships when you've been working hard to avoid them.

Earlier this month I wrote about how to handle multiple desires – for career success and relationships, for independence and someone to count on. But how do you start to work on relationships when you’ve been busy avoiding them?

The first step is to invest in relationships you already have. With friends, mentors, and family members who see you as a complex and nuanced person, who don’t just see one side of you. Who ask you questions about your desires and assumptions.

You can also challenge yourself when you find yourself denigrating/putting down the impulses, wishes, and pleasures that come with relationships - to care and be cared for, to need and be needed, to be mutually vulnerable with someone.

Engage your friends in honest conversation about how much they feel they’re getting what they want from relationships and career. How they’re handling building careers at the same time as a relationship.

Seek out older women you admire and ask them about the dilemmas you’re wrestling with – if they give you pat answers, challenge them and ask them how they really wrestled with these complex choices and opportunities. Too often people speak to 20-something women in a condescending way – “oh you’ll figure it out, we all do” or in a myopically glorified way “oh I loved dating in my 20’s – it was so fun!” Neither of these responses is helpful, or particularly reflective of the reality of 20-something life.

When you do find yourself in a romantic relationship, be honest and straightforward about your career ambitions AND allow yourself to be vulnerable and not always in control. I know it feels risky to do so. But it’s as important to take risks in your personal life as it is in your professional one.

Young women have a lot of training in how to go after what they want in the work world. But you have less training in how to be both ambitious and vulnerable – how to be independent and need someone at the same time. It seems paradoxical, but it’s the foundation of a successful relationship that will support your career development. The person who loves both sides of you is the one to hold onto.

Relationships are too important NOT to invest in. And whether you’re with the person you’re going to marry now, or you’ll marry the next person you’re with, or the next one, now is the time to invest in your personal life as well as your career.

If you like this post, check out my book, Hard to Get, follow me on Twitter, or like me on Facebook.

About the Author
Leslie C. Bell, Ph.D., LCSW

Leslie C. Bell, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and sociologist who specializes in women's development and sexuality.

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