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"Are you ambitious or do you want to run a lifestyle business?"

This is a real question I was asked in the early stages as I spoke to people about my new(ish) and growing coaching practice.

As a question, the puzzling binary nature of it intrigued me, the inherent assumptions within it troubled me and the sub-text behind it made me stop and think.

It made me wonder who else has been asked a version of the same question, perhaps in the context of ambition in a corporate career or as an entrepreneur like me.

And by whom?

I was sharing this with a fellow business founder in a catch up last week and her eye-brows shot up. "Was it a man that asked you that?"she enquired. As it happens, yes. Twice. We began to wonder how many men get asked if they are "ambitious or just working to fund a lifestyle?". Do my fellow male entrepreneurs recall being asked this question at all when they started out? Do my male friends and colleagues who are employees get asked about their ambition in the workplace?

The reasons I stepped out of corporate life to start my business were three-fold: to spend more time doing the work I love most; to make a tangible positive difference to my clients' professional lives; to have the autonomy to spend much more time with my children. In summary, I am ambitious to create and grow a sustainable business which adds value to clients and enables me to better balance my priorities.

It's true that I don't have a hard plan to grow the business by x% within y years but I've never thought of it as a lifestyle business, which is an odd phrase. It implies the business is perhaps some kind of hobby. This may not be the intention but it certainly sounds less serious than my previous roles within organsiations where I was also working to fund my lifestyle if that's how we're terming the purpose of work. I never went to work as an employee thinking of it a "lifestyle career".

If we get down to brass tacks, I think it's true to say that the either/or question and the phrase "lifestyle business" itself assumes I am not ambitious; that I am sort of filling my time between the school holidays to earn a bit of cash with the implication my other half must be earning the bucks that keep our family afloat.

In pondering whether I am indeed a serious entrepreneur, I reflected on these truths: I am doing this because it's fulfilling my potential; I am a core co-contributor to the family finances; I am doing it in a way that creates more flexibility. I am still in the relatively early stages of establishing a business for the long term. I have ideas, courage, fears, nerves, plans and hopes but I have no way of predicting yet where it all might go.

With International Women's Day approaching, it struck me how interesting this question is for all my fellow entrepreneurs out there and what assumptions are still being made about women working in businesses and on businesses.

As we take stock of how we are helping and hindering women in fulfilling their potential, how might it be to ditch the assumptions about who plays which role in the domestic set-up? How can we use language and questions to help shift the dial on the assumption that parenting and being ambitious are mutually exclusive?

Wherever you work, reach for the open question rather than something binary and really listen to what you hear in response.

Ambition comes in many shapes and sizes. What we personally define as success is the more interesting question to get curious about.


Georgie Rudd is an accredited Executive & Leadership Coach. She runs her own practice, Rudd Coaching Ltd, splitting her time between 1:1 coaching, group coaching and facilitation of leadership development programmes. Georgie often works on leadership impact, self-belief and the inner critic, managing healthier work/life rhythms, effective delegation, building relationships and career transitions. She is also co-founder of Think Perspective (, running The Listening Lab to help people at work unlock the power of listening and have higher quality conversations everyday.

Contact for more information.

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